It MAY be that the “school reform” movement is coming apart at the seams. Not only has Michelle Rhee’s credibility been undercut, but several news articles over the past several weeks indicate the “school reform” movement may be losing public support. The articles describe:
- students protesting the use of NECAPs as a graduation requirement in RI,
- parents keeping their children home as they opt out of “high stakes tests”,
- students opting out of tests with the full support of their parents,
- parents rallying against the school closures in Chicago,
- a School Board candidate backed by billionaires and politicians seeking “School reform” losing to a school teacher in Los Angeles,
- evidence mounting that vouchers, for-profit charters, and “no excuses” schools are only getting results when they manipulate test scores or exclude troublesome and/or low performing students
But the biggest indication that “school reform” is reeling was the NYTimes editorial on Sunday titled “Education, Vision, and the Mayor’s Race”. For the first time in memory, the Times editors spoke out against the standardized testing, closure of low performing schools, and disdain for the democratic process that define the “reform” movement:
The school system has indeed gone overboard in relying on standardized testing. Tests need to be a means to the end of better instruction, not the pedagogical obsession they have become. Yes, Mr. Bloomberg has shown disdain for consultation, as in his rush to close underperforming schools without the full and meaningful involvement of affected communities. The system needs to strengthen neighborhoods’ connection to schools and reconnect with parents who feel shut out. And while charter schools can be a path to excellence, they can also cause problems. Shoehorning them into existing school buildings over local objections can alienate parents and reinforce among students a harmful sense of being separate and unequal.
After over a decade of controlling the schools, the business approach advocated by Mayor Bloomberg has failed to make any difference in student performance as measured by the standardized tests beloved of the quants who oversee the district operations but it HAS resulted in alienating parents— especially those whose neighborhood schools are closed and those whose children are frozen out of programs for “gifted” children because of seat limitations…. oh… and if has also resulted in some money being made by for-profit charter schools funded by taxpayers.
If the failure of the business-model reform was limited to NYC it would only be a local news story… but across the country teachers, parents, and taxpayers are beginning to see that the “reform” movement is only profiting those who own shares in privatized charter schools and is eroding local decision making. The end of the “school reform” movement funded by billionaires may be giving way to the slow, incremental improvement that schools can make when the community unites behind them.
The school advisory board appointed by the mayor of Chicago voted to close 54 elementary schools based on a recommendation of the Superintendent of Schools, a recommendation Mayor Rahm Emmanuel campaigned for aggressively. Diane Ravitch’s post today has a link to an article in the local newspaper calling for Chicago to return to an elected Board. I see this debate as fruitless because while governance is A problem facing urban and rural schools I do not believe it is THE paramount problem facing public education. Moreover, I see it as a diversion that will distract from the fundamental message we need to get across: public schools are working for all but the children raised in poverty and the children raised in households where parents are disengaged. Every time we open a new line of discourse it provides an opportunity for the media to divert its attention from this overarching message. I expressed my beliefs on this issue in a comment made to Diane Ravitch’s post:
I don’t believe changes in governance will change anything… and will use NYC as a case in point.
Diane, I’m sure you recall the decentralization wars in NYC in the late 1960s that led to multiple community boards replacing one central board and herds of superintendents reporting to a chancellor. These boards evolved into the “unwieldy” boards Bloomberg dispatched when he took over the school system promising to use his expertise in business to fix schools. In effect NYC has witnessed three forms of governance models none of which addressed the fundamental challenge of public education: improving the performance of children born into poor households headed by parents who are not engaged in their child’s education. Governance changes, pay-linked-to-performance, data-driven instruction, CCSS, removal of tenure, and all the corporate strategies have three things in common: they don’t require more money; they all focus on adults; and they all treat students like “products” or “consumers”.
My belief is that interagency collaboration is the best way out of the woods on this matter… having social services, health services, and schools intervening as early as possible in the lives of children born into poverty and providing coordinated and sustained support for their parents throughout school. But that idea assumes that government programs can work and that idea will only work if it is supported with a substantial investment of public funds.
There was a time during my lifetime when people in this country banded together to dramatically reduce poverty among senior citizens, establishing covenants that are sacrosanct to politicians in both parties. As educators we should be united in our efforts to do the same for children. I wrote yesterday to my Democratic Senator who was among the 70+ senators who voted in opposition to an agriculture bill amendment that would restore cuts to food stamps, school breakfast, and school lunch, cuts that would affect 210,000 children. Governance changes won’t put food on the table of those children, nor will governance changes occur fast enough to help those children in the near future.
As I wrote yesterday, in addition to pushing back against legislation that undercuts public education professional education associations and unions should unite their voices and oppose any legislation that undercuts this country’s increasingly tepid support for children and parent’s in poverty. If, as many bloggers contend, poverty is the underlying problem, fighting poverty must be a major part of the solution.
Last week Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post reprinted a commencement address Richard Rothstein, former NYTimes education reporter, gave to the graduating class of Loyola University Chicago College of Education. The address lays out the facts regarding the supposedly failing schools in our country (the NAEP data shows they are NOT failing at all) and the need for our country to address the underlying problems that challenge public schools (as James Carville famously quoted: “It’s the economy stupid!”). It’s a good read.