Earlier this week, the US edition of The Guardian posted an article by Sarah Smarsh on the state of public education in Kansas. As reported in earlier blog posts, KS finds itself in a funding crisis because their Governor has lowered taxes to entice the expansion of business and recently lost a Supreme Court case filed by a parent who felt that KS was not sufficiently funding its schools and that lack of funding resulted unconstitutional inequities. The Guardian suggests that the Governor or the legislature, which is sympathetic to his cause, might offer a solution that would not only please the court, but would also please privatization advocates like the Koch bothers who live in KS and the large number of fundamental Christians: vouchers. If the legislature closed public schools and offered vouchers to parents that could be used in any school at all, fundamentalists could open private academies to address their concerns about the secular humanism rampant in public education and the Koch brothers’ kindred spirits could open for profit charters and taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay any more money at all. It would be a win-win-win for the taxpayers, the fundamentalists, and the profiteers… but it would be dreadful for the very students whose parent filed the lawsuit because it would end public education as we know it today.
Smarsh notes parallels between Brown v Board of Education in 1954 and this case today, one of which was that the plaintiffs in both cases were pastors of churches. She writes:
It was a good legal strategy that a longtime Christian clergyman became the namesake for Gannon v Kansas (the lawsuit seeking funding equity), a lawsuit bent on increasing funding for a secular institution. Similarly, in Brown v Board some 60 years ago, Topeka dad Oliver Brown took the title spot for being a respected pastor. The two cases contain plenty more parallels, and if there was a poor people’s movement to match the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century today, people would be marching in the streets – not to desegregate schools but to keep them open.
Unfortunately for those of us who want to see a strong and vibrant public education system, the poor people whose children are being shortchanged cannot see how the system is working against them and taking tax revenues to either promote religion or increase profits. The war against the poor is subtler than racism but every bit as pernicious… and seemingly as intractable.
In today’s NYTimes Mokoto Rich reports that Lamar Alexander intends to “…reverse the “trend towards a national school board” in federal education policy” by shifting the responsibility for setting standards and developing assessments back to the States. In doing so, Alexander said he was open to reducing the mandated annual tests and allowing states to determine how they will assess the progress of schools:
Mr. Alexander, in a conference call with reporters, said he was “open on the question” of whether the federal government should mandate testing. “Generally speaking, I want these discussions about testing, standards and accountability systems to move back to states and communities, where I think they belong,” he said.
As one who recently posted articles on the history of public education policy since Brown v. Board of Education and one who has written MANY posts opposing the use of standardized tests, Alexander’s proposal puts me (and presumably many other’s who share my convictions) in a double bind. If I were to support Alexander’s proposal on the pretext that the elimination of federally mandated annual tests to be used for the purpose of evaluating schools and teachers was the greatest good it is conceivable that I would be supporting a host of state governments where privatization and re-segregation are viewed as acceptable if not desirable. It is not hard to see that many Senators who advocate “choice” would readily trade the opportunity to introduce that concept into their states in exchange for the “nanny state” that Duncan and Obama have imposed through RTTT. Indeed, as the previous post indicates, advocates of choice have declared annual testing and choice as “the civil rights issue of our time”. Consequently if Congress declares that decisions about testing and choice can be executed more rapidly at the State level it would be difficult for Duncan and Obama to oppose legislation that does so… especially if the new NCLB legislation insists on annual testing which seems to be their “do or die” issue. The ultimate responsibility for this emerging Hobson’s choice falls on the President and his Secretary of Education. By determining that annual tests and VAM would replace NCLB and by using the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to infuse schools with substantial sums of money to create “incentives” to do so, the Obama administration has set the stage for the GOP to use the restoration of State control of education to eliminate their misbegotten legacy. Over the past two months it has become increasingly evident that the use of the federal stimulus to support VAM, testing, and privatization was a huge missed opportunity and may ultimately result in the end of public schooling as it existed in the 20th century… and the disruption Obama and Duncan achieved will result in separate but unequal schools and a hardening of the economic classes if states are permitted to introduce vouchers as part of the ESEA reauthorization.