By Sue Peters, co-editor of the Seattle Education 2010 blog & founding member of Parents Across America
Huffington Post, February 4, 2011
The current crowd of education reformers like to dismiss any of us who disagree with their agenda as “defenders of the status quo.”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
I am not a defender of the status quo in public education because the status quo is currently No Child Left Behind and its insidious spin-off Race to the Top.
In fact, I decry the state of public education in this country right now because a beleaguered, underfunded system has been disparaged and ravaged even further this last decade by damaging policies based on failed concepts pushed by those who want to privatize our public schools.
I do not support the status quo because the status quo is teacher bashing. I don’t support the demonizing of teachers and belittling or weakening of the profession.
The status quo is standardization and high-stakes testing which narrows curriculum and kills all creativity and joy for learning and teaching.
It is “merit pay” which lashes teacher evaluations to student test scores, and which repeated studies and common sense show doesn’t work.
It is data manipulation to create the illusion of education reform “success.” (See: “Standards Raised, More Students Fail Tests.”)
It is the re-segregation of public schools, exacerbated by the growth of charter schools.
It is overpaid, revolving school superintendents or chancellors with no ties to the local community, often no background in education and no plans to stick around. That is the Broad Foundation model and the cause of the recent outcry in New York when Mayor Bloomberg chose a publishing executive with no background in education to be the chancellor of New York’s schools.
The status quo is national public education policy largely determined by unelected billionaires with zero expertise in education. “Venture philanthropists” Eli Broad and Bill Gates spend millions shaping public education policy. Formers staffers from the Gates Foundation now seed the Obama Administration’s Department of Education. As reported by Bloomberg Businessweek:
Two of Duncan’s top aides, Chief of Staff Margot Rogers and Assistant Deputy Secretary James H. Shelton III, came from the [Gates] foundation and were granted waivers by the Administration from its revolving-door policy limiting involvement with former employers.
Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and former chief economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, are both former members of the Broad board of directors. The “Broad Prize for Urban Education” is a trophy and large cash sum awarded annually by the private Broad Foundation to school districts performing to its liking. In its 2009-10 Annual Report, Broad boasts that the trophy itself “resides at the U.S. Department of Education.”
You couldn’t ask for a better symbol of the infiltration of private corporate interests in federal government.
Have Mr. Broad or Mr. Gates been elected to public office to direct education policy? Do either have any expertise or experience in public education? No, and no. Do either seek genuine parent input? No.
The status quo is astroturf ed reform groups springing up like toadstools in the night, heavily funded by the same “venture philathropists” looking for a “return on their investment” and pushing the same corporate ed reform agenda. Washington D.C. ex-school chancellor, Michelle Rhee’s new organization is apparently backed by the same wealthy interests. These organizations lobby for an ed reform agenda that we parents have no say in or may even oppose. But they have resources and media access at their disposal that ordinary parents don’t have. This is not a democratic dialogue about our children’s future when the main stakeholders — we the parents — are largely shut out of the debate.
I do not defend the current trend of sending recent college grads with just five weeks’ training and just a two-year commitment to teach in our nation’s most struggling schools which already suffer from high teacher turnover. But that is the model for Teach for America, Inc. a multimillion-dollar enterprise that is now funded by the Obama government to the tune of $50 million plus and is arguably de-professionalizing the teaching profession.
Five weeks training does not make these uncredentialed grads “highly qualified,” despite the recent shenanigans by Congress.
I do not support the status quo that punishes teachers, principals and schools with mass layoffs, firings and closures because of student test scores, rather than addressing why some children are struggling and how else one might measure a child’s abilities and a teacher’s worth.
I do not support the status quo which is the mindset of the corporate ed reformers that schools should be run like businesses. Schools are not businesses. Their purpose is not profit. The strongest schools are communities, more like families, and need to be cooperative, creative, engaging and nurturing environments.
I do not support the status quo of shameful attacks by the media on teachers and schools and the one-sided cheerleading for charter schools that fails to acknowledge the genuine proven limitations of these schools — their failure to serve children with special needs, the high attrition of kids (apparently an entire class of kids was booted from a charter school in Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone because they weren’t deemed likely to do well the following year. See: “The Myth of Charter Schools,” Brookings Institution, Nov. 11, 2010.)
I do not support the status quo which makes celebrities and “super(wo)men” out of spotlight-seeking figures like Michelle Rhee, Michael Bloomberg, and Arne Duncan, while all the real work is being done quietly by the thousands of anonymous teachers, principals, educators, parents and students, who suffer through reform after reform, trend after trend, searing budget cuts, and still manage to go on and offer a good education to many children in this nation without any national recognition.
I do not support a status quo that cuts so much from school budgets that the PTAs are left fund raising for such essentials as teachers and books, and school communities that do not have these extra resources suffer the most.
I do not support the status quo of education policies being driven by Wall Street interests and not by what’s in the best interests of our children.
I do not support mayoral control, abolishing of school boards, quashing of parent voices and end-runs around democracy.
I do not defend the federal government imposing its edicts on local school districts, suppressing local autonomy and skirting the edges of constitutionality, which is what Race to the Top essentially does.
“The research comes on the heels of a recent pledge by President Barack Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, to use $5 billion of the $100 billion in federal stimulus funds for education to press states on charter schools. “States that don’t have charter school laws, or put artificial caps on the growth of charter schools, will jeopardize their application” for federal grant money, Duncan said in a call with reporters last week. Currently, 10 states lack laws that allow charter schools, and 26 others cap their enrollment.”
No, I reject this status quo.
What I support and call for is: the long-term personal and professional investment in every child — which takes time and commitment, as has been demonstrated in Everett, Washington. It’s not flashy, doesn’t require expensive high-tech products, just good old-fashioned follow-up with kids, mentoring and genuine support. And an engaging curriculum.
I support small class sizes that allow greater one-on-one interaction. I call for the parents’ voices to be the loudest in the discussion of how to run our schools. I support autonomy for schools, teachers and principals who know their communities best, and who can ensure their children are doing well, learning what they need to know and able to graduate.
I call for creative teaching, rich, varied curricula that include the arts, music, languages, science and physical education. I call for safe, decent well-maintained buildings and healthy school meals.
I call for an honest dialogue about the ravages of poverty on our nation’s children. We need to acknowledge the shameful fact that 21 percent of our children live in poverty, and that inequities in academic results are largely determined by income and home life of the child. This is not an excuse, it is a fact, and to expect teachers and schools alone to correct the deep and damaging inequalities of our society is irrational.
I call for an overhaul of school district administrations, to pare them down to the essentials, make them efficient and serving the interests of the school communities, not the whims of private foundations or vendors of standardized tests, text books or online learning products.
I call for the hiring of school superintendents and chancellors who have a local connection and commitment to the community they must serve which will in turn lead to greater accountability. I call to retain democratically elected school boards (rather than the less democratic mayoral control), with members who must answer to their constituents and oversee the superintendent, and who are paid a proper salary so they can do their job thoroughly and well.
Public education is an integral ingredient in creating an informed public and a strong democracy. I believe we must keep our public schools free of private and political agendas and manipulations, strengthen our schools, not close them down, stop punishing and start nurturing.
If any readers agree that our nation needs a new vision for public education, I invite you to join a forum of parents from across the nation who are launching a new organization, Parents Across America, in New York on Feb. 7. Our keynote speaker will be education historian Diane Ravitch. The event is free and open to the public. It starts at 6 p.m. and will held at: PS/IS 89 – Liberty School, 201 Warren Street, New York, N.Y. 10282.
Help bring parents’ voices to the education debate and support progressive, positive, constructive education reforms that work.