A post in the Angry Bear blog, described as a “Slightly left of center economic commentary on news, politics and the economy”, describes how the emergence of Private Public Partnerships (P3) contribute to inequality by rewarding the oligarchs who can afford to make the private investments and effectively penalizing the consumers who pay increased fees for formerly public services. The article uses Chilean highways and Chicago parking meters as a means of explaining how the oligarchs profit and consumers are bilked. After reading the post, I left the following comment:
The P3 idea is emerging in public education to ill effect… and accountability based on standardized testing is accelerating the trend. Affluent communities whose test scores are high to begin with are spending more and their students are retaining the broad curriculum offerings and solid teachers. Urban schools serving children raised in poverty get low test scores and are then replaced by for-profit charters whose focus is on the topics tested, whose operations are less costly, and whose profits are returned to shareholders instead of being used to expand social services needed by the students.
Politicians in both parties hail P3 as a means of bringing business practices into the private sector, getting work done more quickly and efficiently, and avoiding the need to raise taxes. What politicians don’t tell voters is the back-end costs for these P3s are more expensive, corrosive to democracy, and contribute to inequality.
“Where the GOP Gets it Right”, Nick Kristoff’s column today in the NYTimes gets it wrong when it comes to analyzing public education. In identifying areas where the GOP’s policy analysis is correct, he writes:
SCHOOL REFORM Republicans were right to blow the whistle on broken school systems, for education in inner-city schools is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. Democrats, in cahoots with teachers’ unions and protective of a dysfunctional system, were long part of the problem.
Bravo to Republicans for protesting that teachers’ unions were sometimes protecting disastrous teachers (including, in New York City, one who passed out drunk in her classroom, with even the principal unable to rouse her). Likewise, some of the most successful schools in the inner cities have been charters in the Knowledge Is Power Program, showing what is possible even in troubled cities.
Yet Democrats, led by President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, are coming around, and teachers’ unions have moderated. Republicans sometimes suggest that our biggest educational problem is teachers’ unions themselves. That’s absurd.States with strong teachers’ unions in the North like Massachusetts have better schools than states in the South with weak unions.
Meanwhile, one of the most important evidence-backed school reforms is public preschool and home visitation for disadvantaged kids, yet Republicans are blocking any national move to universal prekindergarten (even though Republican-led states like Oklahoma are leaders in pre-K).
These three paragraphs prompted me to write two comments. First:
School systems are not broken: well-funded school systems that pay teachers well and educate children raised in affluence do as well as any on earth. Underfunded school systems who pay teachers less well and educate children raised in poverty are challenged. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are willing to face the fact that educating children in poverty requires more government resources in health and social services and more support for single parents. And in this post-Reagan era, neither party is willing to say that government might be the solution and not the problem.
One more caveat regarding the KIPP’s performance in inner city schools: a review of these posts from Diane Ravitch’s blog might mitigate the use of the term “success”: http://dianeravitch.net/?s=KIPP It seems KIPP de-selects poor performing students, costs substantially more per pupil than public schools, and engages in some disciplinary practices that would not be allowed in a public school.
Nick Kristoff is usually on the mark when it comes to social policy issues, particularly the effects of poverty. Indeed, in this article he concludes with this call for the GOP to provide more than words:
If we offer the needy nothing but slogans and reprimands — “Strengthen your family! Get a job! Get an education!” — then our antipoverty programs are a cruel joke as bankrupt as Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake.”
Needy schools are like needy citizens… they get slogans like “school reform” and “accountability” and reprimands like “work longer hours” and “set higher standards”… but when it comes to funding, they don’t even get cake: they get the crumbs that fall on the floor.
Friday’s NYTimes featured an article that acknowledged that parents were starting to send up to the standardized test regimen… and not just parents in “...the world of affluent white parents and celebrated schools, where children are largely destined to succeed.” As the article accurately notes, we have a two class system in public education: one that prepares students for test and one that embodies the principles of progressive education, and
… progressive education — with its excited learners immersed for months in astronomy or medievalism or Picasso — (is only in) the province of those able to send their children to some of the best private schools, or with the means to live in places with leading public schools.
Progressive minded educators who value equitable opportunities for all learners find it appalling that children raised in poverty are herded into schools where test-preparation is the sole emphasis. Children raised in poverty attend underfunded schools have often eliminated programs like art, music, and PE and de-emphasized untested areas like social studies and science. Moreover, the parents of children raised in poverty are often not as engaged as parents “with the means to live in places with leading public schools”, NOT because they care less about their children’s education, but because they are working hard to eke out a living. or, in some cases, coping with stressful health problems like addiction and mental health issues. The profiteers look at the “marketplace” of public education and see that imposing change is easiest in an environment where pushback will be limited… and so they have aggressively introduced for-profit schools in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods where they know parents are relatively disengaged in the life of the school. MAYBE the over testing imposed by NYS and RTTT will make it clear to these parents that their children are being denied the same opportunities as children in affluent “leading public schools”.
The article concluded with a paragraph describing State Commissioner John King’s thoughts about the testing issue:
Even the tests’ vocal advocates cannot entirely embrace the kind of instructional sentiment the exams have unleashed. In a recent letter to school superintendents, John B. King Jr., the state’s education commissioner, discouraged administrators from making placement and promotion decisions based solely on the tests. Speaking by telephone last week, Dr. King told me, “I worry that there’s a pedagogical mistake made in believing that if there’s more test prep, students will do better on the test.” In those fears, he hardly stands alone.
This paragraph prompted me to enter the following comment:
Sorry… but Dr. King’s letter discouraging “…administrators from making placement and promotion decisions based solely on tests” flies in the face of his assertion (and Duncan and Obama’s assertions) that teacher’s performance evaluations MUST be based on standardized tests. if Dr. King wanted NYS teachers to avoid teaching to the test he should firmly oppose the federal mandate that standardized test results be used to measure teacher performance… and if he believes teachers are making a “pedagogical mistake” by teaching test prep he should compare notes with Common Core author and ETS Chair David Coleman who is changing the SAT because of concerns he had that the test prep industry was improving student performance by prepping students for the test. “Reformers” like Dr. King and David Coleman advocate standardized tests to lend credence to the bogus charge that US schools are failing which, in turn, provides cover for the privatization of public schools.
Put another way: what teacher WOULDN’T try to teach-to-the-test if their public evaluation was based on how their students did on the test? You can’t administer “high stakes” tests and then complain that teachers are making a “pedagogical mistake” by teaching to that test. The best way to handle this is to give formative and summative testing back to the teachers and give more support to the children raised in poverty whose performance-as-measured-by-whatever-test will persistently be lower than children whose parents “have the means to live in places with leading public schools.”
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