Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Sunday, January 24, 2010

10 False "Race to the Top" Assumptions

With the education deformers and public education privatization proponents on the offensive at the city, state and federal levels these days, it is becoming increasingly difficult to beat back their bullshit.

Two new documentaries are coming out celebrating the wonders of the charter movement and exposing the evils of teachers unions.

President Obama has made education privatization and top-down education deform a major component of his Change You Can Believe In agenda.

The state has listed 34 NYC schools
that will be either closed, restructured or handed over to charters.

The city has 20 schools it plans to close after a pro-forma meeting by the PEP boards rubberstamps Mayor Moneybags' plans.

Anderson Vanderbilt Cooper and so many others in the media (see this jive at Huffingtonpost here and here for the latest examples) fall over themselves to show how wonderful and innovative the charter movement is but get the basic facts wrong.

Wall Street and the members of the corporatocracy
race to hand out money to the charter movement and sit on their boards while charter schools push out traditional public schools from their spaces, steal their resources and take the cream of the crop of public school students, leaving public schools to educate the ELL's, the support service students and the at risk students charters refuse to take.

These are tough times for educators and students in the traditional public school system. It feels like we are on the losing end of the battle and it is coming sooner rather than later.

With the state and city closing or restructuring 46 public schools this year and with the overflow of at risk students from those schools sure to be handed over to the remaining public schools, within a few years you can see how every traditional public school in the city will have been declared "failing" and closed.

We can and will fight this, but right now, the charter movement has all the money, the resources and the political allies.

They have much of the momentum.

But we can get our message out, which is to show how the education deformers are wrong on nearly every point of their "reform" message.

Last October, Marion Brady, a veteran teacher, administrator and curriculum developer, wrote a great piece in the Washington Post that lists the false assumptions the Race to the Top initiative makes.

I want to post it in full. It is essential to list this because it is the truth.

Charter proponents and education deformers don't care about truth, of course. Nor do most of them care about education or students.

This is about opening up another financial windfall for for-profit corporations that already own this country and came close to bringing it down last year with their greed and hubris.

This is about creating good future corporate employees willing to work longer and harder to make much less than their parents and grandparents did.

This is about building a bridge back to 19th century when the work week was 60 hours and 6 days.

This is about the robber barons like Gates, Broad, Bloomberg, Jobs et al. extending their power and hold on the country.

They're not interested in an educated populace.

An educated populace could see through their bullshit.

No, they're interested in owning everything and solidifying their power and position - and what better way to do that then socialize children as serfs, destroy the labor movement completely and use globalization and free trade as a rationale for why Americans must work longer and harder to make so much less while carrying so much more debt.

We must fight this.

Here is Brady's piece:

By Marion Brady
"Race to the Top? National standards for math, science, and other school subjects? The high-powered push to put them in place makes it clear that the politicians, business leaders, and wealthy philanthropists who’ve run America’s education show for the last two decades are as clueless about educating as they’ve always been.

If they weren’t, they’d know that adopting national standards will be counterproductive, and that the "Race to the Top" will fail for the same reason "No Child Left Behind" failed—because it’s based on false assumptions.

False Assumption 1:
America’s teachers deserve most of the blame for decades of flat school performance. Other factors affecting learning—language problems, hunger, stress, mass media exposure, transience, cultural differences, a sense of hopelessness, and so on and on—are minor and can be overcome by well-qualified teachers. To teacher protests that they’re scapegoats taking the blame for broader social ills, the proper response is, "No excuses!" While it’s true teachers can’t choose their students, textbooks, working conditions, curricula, tests, or the bureaucracies that circumscribe and limit their autonomy, they should be held fully accountable for poor student test scores.

False Assumption 2:
Professional educators are responsible for bringing education to crisis, so they can’t be trusted. School systems should instead be headed by business CEOs, mayors, ex-military officers, and others accustomed to running a "tight ship." Their managerial expertise more than compensates for how little they know about educating.

False Assumption 3:
"Rigor"—doing longer and harder what we’ve always done—will cure education’s ills. If the young can’t clear arbitrary statistical bars put in place by politicians, it makes good sense to raise those bars. Because learning is neither natural nor a source of joy, externally imposed discipline and "tough love" are necessary.

False Assumption 4:
Teaching is just a matter of distributing information. Indeed, the process is so simple that recent college graduates, fresh from "covering" that information, should be encouraged to join "Teach For America" for a couple of years before moving on to more intellectually demanding professions. Experienced teachers may argue that, as Socrates demonstrated, nothing is more intellectually demanding than figuring out what’s going on in another person’s head, then getting that person herself or himself to examine and change it, but they’re just blowing smoke.

False Assumption 5:
Notwithstanding the failure of vast experiments such as those conducted in eastern Europe under Communism, and the evidence from ordinary experience, history proves that top-down reforms such as No Child Left Behind work well. Centralized control doesn’t stifle creativity, imply teacher incompetence, limit strategy options, discourage innovation, or block the flow of information and insight to policymakers from those actually doing the work.

False Assumption 6:
Standardized tests are free of cultural, social class, language, experiential, and other biases, so test-taker ability to infer, hypothesize, generalize, relate, synthesize, and engage in all other "higher order" thought processes can be precisely measured and meaningful numbers attached. It’s also a fact that test-prep programs don’t unfairly advantage those who can afford them, that strategies to improve the reliability of guessing correct answers can’t be taught, and that test results can’t be manipulated to support political or ideological agendas. For these reasons, test scores are reliable, and should be the primary drivers of education policy.

False Assumption 7:
Notwithstanding the evidence from research and decades of failed efforts, forcing merit pay schemes on teachers will revitalize America’s schools. This is because the desire to compete is the most powerful of all human drives (more powerful even than the satisfactions of doing work one loves). The effectiveness of, say, band directors and biology teachers, or of history teachers and math teachers, can be easily measured and dollar amounts attached to their relative skill. Merit pay also has no adverse effect on collegiality, teacher-team dynamics, morale, or school politics.

False Assumption 8:
Required courses, course distribution requirements, Carnegie Units, and other bureaucratic demands and devices that standardize the curriculum and limit teacher and learner options are products of America’s best thinkers about what the young need to know. Those requirements should, then, override individual learner interests, talents, abilities, and all other factors affecting freedom of choice.

False Assumption 9:
Notwithstanding charter schools’ present high rates of teacher turnover, their growing standardization by profit-seeking corporations, or their failure to demonstrate that they can do things all public schools couldn’t do if freed from bureaucratic constraints, charters attract the most highly qualified and experienced teachers and are hotbeds of innovation.

False Assumption 10:
The familiar, traditional "core curriculum" in near-universal use in America’s classrooms since 1893 is the best-possible tool for preparing the young for an unknown, unpredictable, increasingly complex and dangerous future.

"Human history," said H.G. Wells, "is a race between education and catastrophe."

If amateurs continue to control American education policy, put your money on catastrophe. It’s a sure thing.

Right now, we're facing catastrophe. Chicago already has it, courtesy of Duncan and Obama and their education deform allies.

New York is getting it courtesy of Bloomberg and Klein and now Meryl Tisch, David Steiner and Barack Obama.

The rest of the country is getting it courtesy of Obama too.

We have to stop Obama and Duncan before it is too late.

We have to stop Bloomberg, Klein, Broad, Gates, et al. from their predatory philanthropy that masks power consolidation as charity.

We have to keep the rationale for the public education system as it has been - to educate informed, intelligent citizens for a democracy, and not the compliant serfs and good corporate employees the education deformers and hedge fund managers want.

It's not too late to do this.

But it's getting later by the day.


  1. As a NYC teacher I feel so defeated about all of this. I've been teaching for ten years, so I've been around long enough to see the change myself. When I started teaching charter schools weren't really in vogue yet in NYC and schools were still grouped by district. What can I do?

  2. You can educate your fellow teachers at your school. You can send emails to your senators and congressman telling them you'll vote against them if they back charters. Same goes for your state reps. You can call the White House a couple of times a week and tell them what you think of Obama's education deform plan.

    I call a few times a week. I write too. They have been beaten into a willingness to listen after Mass. I tell them I have ONLY voted for Dems my entire life going back to 1988, but Obama's bailout policies and education privatization policies have me OUTRAGED at him and the Dem party. I now work to make suyre he is voted out of office in 2012 and any Dems who back education deform follow him.

    That's what I do. It's a shot in the dark, but a weakened Obama might help us in this matter. He will try and move this as his "legacy" but I hope the Repubs who are sick of the feds dictating ed policy will kill NCLB renewal and Tom Harkin will be less charter and deform friendly than that corporate whore who wanted the gig (Dodd) or the one who has it in the House (Miller.)

  3. I agree. Letting your fellow teachers know about blogs and websites that shine a light on these issues is very important. Contacting politicians, too. Also helping them get educated on whether their union is representing and fighting for them or not fighting enough. There is a union election coming up, ya know.

  4. It's amazing how quiet that union election thing is. Funny how that goes. How is it people complain about Bloomberg being Mayor/Dictator for life when Unity has been in power for SOOOOOOOOO much longer than he will ever dream of being in power.