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“What the hell do you have to lose?”

January 26, 2017

Diane Ravitch cross-posted a post written by blogger Bill Boyle titled “Betsy DeVos and the Problem of Institutional Racism”. In the post Mr. Boyle suggests that the implementation of the privatization that resulted from NCLB and RTTT was a form of “institutional racism”. This assertion was challenged by many of her readers, including me.

As I wrote in a comment I left, the problem isn’t that the individuals like DeVos, Rahm Emanual, Gates, and the Waltons are racist. The “reform” narrative they bought into is deeply flawed. The narrative crafted by well-intentioned legislators in Washington DC ultimately played into the hands of the privatization crowd and is now leading us to the doorstep of Milton Friedman’s dream of a deregulated privatized free-market education system driven by vouchers.

When Ted Kennedy— hardly a racist— helped pass NCLB he was convinced that the system put in place as a result of that law would help address the inequities of public education. President Obama— again, hardly a racist— instituted his misbegotten RTTT initiative he reinforced the “accountability” model implicit in NCLB. In championing “rigorous interventions needed to turn around the lowest-performing schools”, RTTT encouraged the privatization of “failing” schools, most of which served children raised in poverty. He sincerely believed this kind of “tough love” approach would improve the lives of children of all races. Indeed, until recently organizations like the NAACP supported the accountability systems put in place by NCLB and amplified by RTTT. Why did they abandon their support late last year? In large measure because they saw that the system they initially supported was yielding disproportionate outcomes.

We now know that neither NCLB nor RTTT made any difference whatsoever, and we see that the pro-voucher, pro-privatization crowd is using this “waste of money” as evidence that the only way to help parents in the cities “full of failing schools” is to give them the opportunity to choose the schools their children can attend. And if there are no acceptable public schools to choose from, those parents should be able to enroll in a private school of their choice… even if the school is a de-regulated for profit school or a sectarian school.

When now-President Trump was on the campaign trail seeking African American voters, he talked about the sad state of the cities and schools and gave them this rationale for their support: “What the hell do you have to lose?”

We’re finding out the answer to that question now.

And it’s the same answer DeVos should have learned from based on her experience in Michigan. When you use test scores as the basis for defining “failure” you invariably identify schools serving children raised in poverty as “failing”…. and closing schools is faster, cheaper, and easier than taking the steps needed to eliminate the effects of poverty.

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