The Self-Fulfilling Prophesy: Failing Public Schools

Everything you need to know about the post-truth demonizing of public schools and false promises of charter schools is in these two paragraphs from Education Week, the queen of misinforming edujournalism:

At their best, the most innovative charter schools provide convincing evidence that there are better ways to educate students (especially disadvantaged ones) than now prevail in most traditional district schools. In fact, these pioneering schools bring together most of the innovative policies and practices needed to transform the nation’s traditional schools into the most successful in the world.

And yet, most traditional school districts either ignore or actively resist innovation. And their processes are so ingrained that one significant alteration would inevitably lead to systemic change or even a total redesign. Few public educators can imagine, let alone undertake, such dramatic change.

Edujournalism has been for decades a harbinger of the current threats to democracy posed by, not fake news, but post-truth journalism, the sort of enduring but false claims that drive mainstream media and remain unchecked by the public.

I recently detailed eight post-truth claims about public education that have fueled over three decades of baseless and harmful education reform; we are now poised for a resurgence of school choice schemes as the next wave of more unwarranted policies unsupported by research and not grounded in credible analyses of education failures.

The paragraphs above traffic in very predictable nonsense—”innovative charter schools” and public schools and educators who actively resist change—that resonates only with those who have no real experience in public education.

This nonsense is driven by the self-proclaimed innovators, few of whom are actual educators, and embraced by the public, most of whom have been students in public schools, and thus, believe they know the system.

Let’s here, then, unpack the nonsense.

First, I can offer a perspective that includes gaining my teaching certificate in a traditional program in the early 1980s before teaching public high school English for 18 years in the rural South, a small-town high school in a moderately impoverished areas.

Significant also is that my teaching career began the same year that South Carolina’s accountability system kicked into high gear; SC was an early and eager adopter of the standards and high-stakes testing movement that has driven K-12 public schools for over three decades.

I also have now taught in higher education for the past 15 years, as a teacher educator having one foot still in public schools (and the bureaucracy that controls it) and another in a much more autonomous profession as a tenured professor.

The Great Lie about charter schools versus public schools is very complex. The lie begins with the hollow use of “innovation,” a term that means nothing except in the sort of pyramid-scheme reality now promoted by Trump and newly minted Secretary of Education DeVos.

The lie then falls apart when you unpack the claim that innovative charter schools will save public education; we must ask, if bureaucracy and mandates are crippling public schools, and freedom to be innovative is the key to charter schools, why not just release public schools from the bureaucracy and mandates so that all schools are free to innovate?

The answer reveals the circular and misleading logic of the Great Lie that is charter innovation: For decades, school choice advocates have struggled against the public remaining mostly against school choice, mostly in favor of their local public schools (even when the public holds a negative view of public schools in general). How, then, could the public be turned against public schools?

The solution has been relentless and ever-increasing mandates that guarantee the self-fulfilling prophesy of public schools.

From SOE DeVos to the EdWeek narrative above, relentless education reform has resulted in creating public schools and teachers trapped in mandates and then criticizing them for not being innovative.

If innovation is really the solution to the problem facing public schools (and I suspect it isn’t), teachers need autonomy.

Yet, education reform has systematically de-professionalized teaching, systematically made teaching and learning less effective, and systematically overwhelmed schools with impossible demands so that the public sees only a failing system, one that the innovator-propagandists can smear as resisting change, refusing to innovate, and doomed to failure—with only innovative charter schools to save the day.

When we peel back the post-truth rhetoric, evidence fails to support claims of charter school success, and five minutes in a public school reveal that schools and teachers are not incapable of “imagin[ing] dramatic change,” but are blocked from practicing their professional autonomy by the exact forces accusing them of being against reform.

Public school teachers have never had professional autonomy, and most cannot even go to the restroom when they need to.

Spitting in the face of public school teachers as the paragraphs above do is the worst of post-truth journalism.

I have now spent about the same amount of time as an educator in K-12 public schools and higher education.

The professional autonomy gulf between the two is stunning.

K-12 public schools and teachers are scapegoats in a ridiculous political charade that depends on post-truth journalism and a gullible public.

There is nothing innovative about that.

Education Reform in the Absence of Political Courage: Charleston (SC) Edition

Words matter, and thus, I must apologize by opening here with a mundane but essential clarification of terms.

As I have written over and over, everything involving humans is necessarily political, even and especially teaching and learning. Therefore, no teacher at any level can truly be apolitical, objective. Taking a neutral or objective pose is a political choice, and an endorsement of the status quo.

Key to that claim is recognizing the difference between political and partisan. Partisan politics involves allegiance to and advocacy for organized political parties, notably Republicans and Democrats.

A partisan feels compelled to place party loyalty above ideology or ethics. To be political can be and should be a moral imperative.

We can avoid being partisan, even as that is political. And when many people call for education and educators to avoid being political, what they really are seeking is that education and educators not be partisan—a position that is achievable and one I endorse.

This distinction matters in public education and public education reform because all public institutions in the U.S. are by their tax-supported status at the mercy of partisan politics.

From around 1980, in fact, politicians at the local, state, and national levels have discovered that public education is a powerful and effective political football. The standard politician’s refrain is “Schools are horrible, and I can make them better!”

The current rise of the inexpert ruling class at the presidential level has been foreshadowed for more than three decades by the partisan politics around education reform—politicians and political appointees with no experience or expertise in education imposing pet reform initiatives onto public schools because these policies appeal to an equally mis-informed public.

Even with large failed crucibles such as New Orleans post-Katrina, political leaders remain committed to finding themselves in a hole and continuing to dig.

In my home state of South Carolina, infamous for our Corridor of Shame, Charleston, on the east coast and part of that corridor, continues to represent the savage inequalities that result from a combination of an inexpert ruling class and an absence of political courage.

Charleston schools reflect the most stark facts about and problems with K-12 education across the U.S.: private and gate-keeping public schools (such as academies, magnet schools, and some charter schools) that provide outstanding opportunities for some students in contrast to grossly ignored high-poverty, majority-minority public schools that mis-serve “other people’s children.”

As a result of these inequities and dramatically different student outcomes exposed by the accountability era obsession with test scores, Charleston has played the education reform game, committing to provably failed policies over and over: school choice, school closures and takeovers, school turnaround scams, overstating charter schools as “miracles,” and investing in Teach For America.

Why do all these policies fail and what ultimately is wrong with inexpert leadership? The absence of political courage to address directly the blunt causes of inequitable student outcomes in both the lives and education of students.

Currently in Charleston, the closing of Lincoln High and transferring those students to Wando High (see here and here) highlight that the gap between commitments to failed edureform and political courage to do something different persists.

The debates and controversy over how former Lincoln students are now performing at Wando offer some important lessons, such as the following:

  • The media and the public should be aware of partisan political code. A garbled reach for “the soft bigotry of low expectations” has been used to explain why Lincoln students’ grades have dropped while at Wando. The “soft bigotry” mantra is a conservative slur triggering the public’s belief in “bleeding heart liberals,” who coddle minorities. But the more damning part of the code is that it focuses blame on the administration and teachers in high-poverty, majority-minority schools and thus away from political leadership.
  • And thus, the public needs to distinguish between blaming educators at Lincoln for low expectations (again, garbled as “low standards”) and the expected consequences of high-poverty, majority-minority schools suffering with high teacher turnover, annual under-staffing, and persistent teacher workforces that are new and/or un-/under-certified. Additionally, the accountability era has unrealistic demands of these schools when compared to low-poverty, low-minority schools that have much greater percentages of experienced and certified teachers.
  • The apparent drop in student grades and test scores from Lincoln to Wando is extremely important data that deserve close scrutiny, but so far, that scrutiny has been reduced to partisan politics and deflecting blame. Dozens of reasons could explain the grade differences, including the transfer as well as the staffing differences between the two schools (neither of which is the simplistic “soft bigotry” argument used primarily to justify closing a community school).

The partisan political approaches to schools and education reform are tarnished by both willful ignorance and a confrontational blame game.

The willful ignorance of politicians and the public refuses to acknowledge huge social inequity driven by racism and white privilege; the blame game seeks ways to blame the victims of those inequities instead of confronting systemic forces.

What should political leaders be doing and what should the public be demanding that is different from the patterns identified above, than the policies already proven as failures?

  • Recognize that in-school only reform creates two serious problems: (1) unrealistic demands with high-stakes consequences produce unethical behavior among otherwise good people (see the Atlanta cheating scandal), and (2) since out-of-school factors overwhelmingly influence measurable student achievement, even the right in-school only reform is unlikely to result in measurable improvement.
  • Interrogate the proclaimed cause of low student achievement—”low expectations”—and instead seek to understand the complex reasons behind that low achievement by poor and black/brown students based on available evidence that includes carefully interviewing the administrators, teachers, and students involved.
  • Advocate for public policy that addresses serious inequity in the lives of children—policy impacting access to health care, a stable workforce, access to safe and stable housing, and high-quality food security.
  • Refuse to ignore needed in-school reform, but reject accountability-based reform for equity-based reform focusing on equitable teacher assignment for all students, articulated school funding that increases funding for schools serving struggling communities, guaranteeing the same high-quality facilities and materials for all children regardless of socioeconomic status of the communities served, and eliminating gate-keeping policies that track high-needs students into test-prep while advantaged students gain access to challenging courses such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate.

Ultimately, the absence of political courage in SC and across the U.S. is where the real blame lies for inequitable student achievement along race and class lines.

Many students, the evidence shows, are doubly and triply disadvantaged by the consequences of their lives and their schools.

Trite and misleading political rhetoric, along with “soft bigotry of low expectations,” includes soaring claims that a child’s ZIP code is not destiny.

Well, in fact, ZIP code is destiny in SC and the U.S.; it shouldn’t be, but that fact will remain as long as political leadership chooses to ignore the expertise within the field of education and continues to lead without political courage.

Political courage requires direct action, even when it isn’t popular, and refuses to deflect blame, refuses to wait for what market forces might accomplish by taking the right action now.

Political courage, as James Baldwin expressed, embraces that “[t]he challenge is in the moment, the time is always now.”


For More on Political Courage

Support Betsy Devos Shoot Yourself In The Foot, Andre Perry

Black Activists Don’t Want White Allies’ Conditional Solidarity!, Stacey Patton

The Rise of Crony Appointees and the Inexpert Ruling Class

Imagine the U.S. president appointing the Secretary of Education based almost entirely on that appointee being connected, and not because of a wealth of experience and expertise in public education.

No, this is not about Trump and Betsy DeVos—or at least not just about the most current spit in the eye of educators. The opening comment applies to Barack Obama appointing Arne Duncan, his Chicago basketball buddy.

The line from Duncan to DeVos is not some dramatic leap, but very direct and incredibly short.

“In the disciplinary societies one was always starting again (from school to barracks, from barracks to the factory),” wrote Gilles Deleuze in Postscript on the Societies of Control, “while in the societies of control one is never finished with anything—the corporation, the educational system, the armed services being metastable states coexisting in one and the same modulation, like a universal system of deformation.”

Many would discount this as so much French philosophical hokum, but when Deleuze turns to the fiction of Franz Kafka, the more concrete warning of this examination appears. Writing over a century ago, Kafka was keenly aware of the soul-destroying consequences of the bureaucratic existence.

Just as Kafka himself offered dark humor in his existential tales, more recently we have the comic strip Dilbert and two versions, UK and US, of the TV sitcom The Office as well as cult class films such as Office Space to dramatize exactly what Deleuze and Kafka feared: the rise of crony appointees and the inexpert ruling class.

Duncan and DeVos are inners, building careers on being connected and buying connections. And education has been a harbinger for the inevitability of Trump for three decades now since being without expertise and experience has driven who controls public education and what policies are implemented.

Education and education policy have been a playground for Innovators! who have no historical context or real experience in day-to-day teaching and learning.

The policy equivalent to DeVos being confirmed as SOE is the charter school—a garbled Frankenstein of pet policies manufactured by Innovators!

Charter schools sew together “public” with “choice” and hire inexperienced and uncertified TFA corps members who dutifully (although briefly) implement Innovation! such as project-based learning (PBL).

And as a result of the inexpert ruling class, we continue to hear this sort of nonsense:

In fact, the rise of charter schools mirrors disruptive innovation, a term coined by the Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. The theory explains how technology allows for the creation of better services, which eventually replace those of well-established competitors. Traditional public schools, for example, are focused on low-risk, sustainable improvements. They lost their dominance in the market to cutting-edge charters that worked to transform labor, capital, materials, and information to better meet consumer needs.

Yes, Technology! and Disruptive Innovation! But there is more:

For more than 2.5 million students in almost 7,000 schools, 43 states, and the District of Columbia, charter schools have ignited innovations in how education is delivered, measured, and structured, by lengthening school days, emphasizing project-based learning, and using new and creative models for classroom management. That traditional public education has adopted many of the same notions first tried in charters is cause for celebration. The more established innovations become, the greater their impact. But charters also run the risk of losing the very conditions that made them able to innovate in the first place.

Wow, Ignited Innovation! As you can tell, this is a hot mess.

The vapid Newspeak of inexpert Innovators! is a veneer covering a complete lack of credibility or substance.

And the result is a reduction of teaching and learning to the exact sort of bureaucratic hell found in Kafka, Dilbert, The Office, and Office Space—know-nothing bosses and managers dutifully keeping the workers on task by constantly changing those tasks.

If we simply unpack the Innovation-of-the-Moment!, PBL, we have a model for exactly how Trump came about, and what to expect in the wake of that rise.

“The cause for my wrath is not new or single. It is of slow growth and has many characteristics,” writes Lou LaBrant. “It is known to many as a variation of the project method; to me, as the soap performance,” explaining:

I am disturbed by the practice, much more common than our publications would indicate, of using the carving of little toy boats and castles, the dressing of quaint dolls, the pasting of advertising pictures, and the manipulation of clay and soap as the teaching of English literature.

LaBrant, then, concludes:

In encouraging much of handwork in connection with the reading of literature, it seems to the writer, wrong emphasis is made. The children may be interested, yes. But it makes considerable difference whether the interest be such as to lead to more reading or more carving….

That the making of concrete models will keep interested many pupils who would otherwise find much of the English course dull may be granted. The remedy would seem to be in changing the reading material rather than in turning the literature course into a class in handcraft.

Let’s note here LaBrant was confronting the failures of obsessive commitments to PBL in 1931.

That’s right.

1931.

The very ugly truth about our crony appointees and inexpert ruling class is that all they have is snake oil and barker’s bullshit.

Innovation! Technology!

Bullshit.

Since one of the first controversies after DeVos was confirmed involved her using a public school for a photo-op, prompting protests and Duncan’s crony-appointee solidarity, I invite anyone who genuinely cares about education to not only visit a public school but also listen to the teachers and students trapped in the Kafkan nightmare that is, for example, a school-wide embracing of PBL.

Teaching and learning—necessarily messy things, essentially personal endeavors—are reduced to a never-ending quest to do PBL as prescribed, teaching and learning be damned (just as LaBrant observed almost 90 years ago).

And as Deleuze recognized, education remains trapped in “always starting again,” “never finished with anything”; education Innovator’s! obsession with Technology! has nothing to do with teaching and learning, but everything to do with making someone money and with discipline and control.

The ceaseless updating of technology requires vigilant retraining (educators are always in a state of retraining), the ceaseless reintroduction of New! standards requires vigilant retraining (educators are always in a state of retraining), and the next program Innovation! requires vigilant retraining (educators are always in a state of retraining).

All the technology and facilities retooling and teacher retraining to implement PBL must necessarily call on Innovators! to create something New! to replace the tired and (once again) ineffective practices.

Once PBL becomes the norm of schooling, Innovators! will pounce on the New! opportunity to Innovate! No, with great speed and determination—Disruptive Innovation!

The know-nothing ruling class and their enablers will scoff at French philosophy and Prussian fiction because that is all about being informed, knowledgable.

We in education have lived under this nonsense for decades now so let me say to the rest of the U.S.: welcome to our nightmare.

Michael Scott has been elected POTUS, and he has given all his friends the cool jobs while he pecks away on Twitter giving the rest of us the middle finger emoji.

Recommended

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Huxley vs Orwell

Teaching Students, Not Standards or Programs

Teaching Reading and Children: Reading Programs as “Costume Parties”

Crass Edupolitics, Failed Mainstream Media in South Carolina

An Op-Ed in The State and Paul Bower’s Charter school advocates shifting gears in South Carolina (The Post and Courier) inadvertently reveal the same message: South Carolina remains mired in crass edupolitics.

StudentsFirst and 50CAN have become SouthCarolinaCAN, but the merging and renaming hasn’t changed a truly ugly fact: these education advocacy groups across the US have no credibility and are created to provide individuals political platforms that benefit the so-called leaders and the pro-privatization forces funding and supporting these constantly morphing organizations.

Yet mainstream media continues to allow these groups and their leaders significant platforms for their misleading propaganda while educators are nearly absent from the public debate.

Crass edupolitical organizations are a sham, but as long as mainstream media continues to shirk their responsibility to support credible sources, it is the media who are at fault here.

Edujournalism has been and continues to be one of the elements contributing to post-truth fake news.

The crass edupolitics infecting SC remains committed to failed policies such as takeover districts, charter schools, and school choice because these organizations and their leaders are not concerned about education, but about their own political agendas.

Since I have addressed these issues repeatedly, I offer here a few posts below:

The Zombie Politics of School Choice: A Reader

Resisting Fatalism in Post-Truth Trumplandia: Charter Schools and the End of Accountability

The Post and Courier: Beware of ‘turnaround’ school districts

The media must choose credibility over press-release journalism if our public institutions, such as public schools, and our democracy has a chance to recover from post-truth fake news.


For Further Reading

‘Fake News’ in America: Homegrown, and Far From New

The Zombie Politics of School Choice: A Reader

The original zombie narrative has been re-created and distorted in contemporary U.S. pop culture, as Victoria Anderson explains:

So what were zombies, originally? The answer lies in the Caribbean. They weren’t endlessly-reproducing, flesh-eating ghouls. Instead, the zombie was the somewhat tragic figure of a human being maintained in a catatonic state – a soulless body – and forced to labour for whoever cast the spell over him or her. In other words, the zombie is – or was – a slave. I always find it troubling that, somewhere along the line, we forgot or refused to acknowledge this and have replaced the suffering slave with the figure of a mindless carnivore – one that reproduces, virus-like, with a bite.

While there is some nuance and variety among the many ways in which U.S. pop culture have manipulated the zombie narrative, central to almost all of those is the zombie as relentless consumer who has risen from the dead and resists being killed permanently.

In that context, school choice is zombie politics because the ideology will not die and its many versions (vouchers, tuition tax credits, charter schools) are destructive.

A few decades ago, school choice advocacy depended on the appeal of the ideology itself since choice is idealized and fetishized in the U.S.

Once school choice policy began to be implemented, and then over the past 2-3 decades as evidence from how choice has not achieved the promises made, school choice advocacy has depended on constantly shifting the type of choice and the promises.

At the center of the school choice debate is a failure in the U.S. to appreciate the importance of the Commons, how publicly funded institutions are necessary for the free market to work (both economically and ethically).

For example, publicly funded roads and highways are powerful and essential for commerce in the U.S. Many resist toll roads in the U.S., and certainly, the entire economy and way of life in the U.S. would be destroyed if we left roads and highways to the whims of the Invisible Hand.

Two facts remain important now as the election of Donald Trump and the apparent choice for Secretary of Education suggest that the zombie politics of school choice has been rejuvenated:

  • The overwhelming evidence for all aspects of school choice show little differences when compared to traditional public schools; some aspects can certainly be categorized as harmful, and any so-called positives are erased when those gains are explained—attrition, comparing apples and oranges, selectivity, inability to scale, etc.
  • Idealizing parental choice fails to step back to the bedrock promise of publicly funded institutions: insuring that choice isn’t necessary.

Just as a blow to the head and brain can kill permanently the zombie, evidence and truth should eradicate the zombie politics of school choice. However, Trumplandia is a post-truth country.

None the less, the truth is our only real option so below is a reader to combat the zombie politics of school choice:

Betsy DeVos’ big education idea doesn’t work, Sarah Carr

Idealizing, Misreading Impoverished and Minority Parental Choice 

Parental Choice, Magical Thinking, and the Paralysis of Indirect Solutions

School choice lessons for Charleston – Post and Courier

Public School, Charter Choice: More Segregation by Design

Don’t Buy School Choice Week

Parental Choice?: A Critical Reconsideration of Choice and the Debate about Choice

Work by Christopher Lubienski

The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private SchoolsChristopher A. Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski 

Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking – 2016 Collection, William J. Mathis (NEPC)

Julian Vasquez Heilig on vouchers

Julian Vasquez Heilig on charter schools

School Finance 101, Bruce Baker

School Vouchers Are Not a Cure For Segregation: Part I , Jersey Jazzman

Here are links to all five parts of the series:

On negative effects of vouchers, Mark Dynarski

Recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools subsequently scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students that remained in public schools. The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large. These studies used rigorous research designs that allow for strong causal conclusions. And they showed that the results were not explained by the particular tests that were used or the possibility that students receiving vouchers transferred out of above-average public schools.

Another explanation is that our historical understanding of the superior performance of private schools is no longer accurate. Since the nineties, public schools have been under heavy pressure to improve test scores. Private schools were exempt from these accountability requirements. A recent study showed that public schools closed the score gap with private schools. That study did not look specifically at Louisiana and Indiana, but trends in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for public school students in those states are similar to national trends.

In education as in medicine, ‘first, do no harm’ is a powerful guiding principle. A case to use taxpayer funds to send children of low-income parents to private schools is based on an expectation that the outcome will be positive. These recent findings point in the other direction. More needs to be known about long-term outcomes from these recently implemented voucher programs to make the case that they are a good investment of public funds. As well, we need to know if private schools would up their game in a scenario in which their performance with voucher students is reported publicly and subject to both regulatory and market accountability.

Failing The Test Series

Regardless of motives, the charter initiatives in Oakland and Los Angeles together signal a significant watershed in the growth of a statewide movement that was birthed by California’s Charter Schools Act of 1992 to create classroom laboratories that might develop the dynamic new curricula and teaching methods needed to reinvigorate schools that were failing the state’s most underserved and disadvantaged children.

How that modest experiment in fixing neighborhood public schools could morph in less than 25 years into the replacement of public schools with an unproven parallel system of privately run, taxpayer-funded academies is only half the story of California’s education wars that will be examined in this series, much of which is based on conversations with both sides of the charter school debate. Over the next few days Capital & Main will also look at:

  • The influence wielded by libertarian philanthropists who bankroll the 50-50 takeovers.
  • How charter schools spend less time and money on students with learning disabilities.
  • The lack of charter school transparency and accountability.
  • How charter expansion is pushing Oakland’s public school district toward a fateful tipping point.
  • The success of less radical yet more effective reforms that get scant media coverage.
  • Nine solution takeaways for struggling schools.

(from Failing the Test: A New Series Examines Charter Schools, Bill Raden)

Charters and Access: Here is Evidence, Julian Vasquez Helig

No, Eva, You Can’t Do Whatever You Want, Jersey Jazzman

Don’t Trust Invested Advocates in Edureform Wars

from Engel, M. (2000). The struggle for control of public education: Market ideology vs. democratic values. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

[I]t is nothing short of disastrous that more than ever before, one antidemocratic system of ideas—market ideology—almost exclusively defines the terms of educational politics and charts the path of education reform.

…[I]deology is important in understanding educational change….Ideology is nonetheless often overlooked or at best misapplied by mainstream social scientists as a factor in politics. This is due in part to the dominance of quantitative methodologies in political science, which leads to the trivialization of the concept into conveniently measurable but irrelevant labels….Market ideology has triumphed over democratic values not because of its superiority as a theory of society but in part because in a capitalist system it has an inherent advantage. (pp. 3, 8-9)

from Callahan, R. E. (1962). Education and the cult of efficiency: A study of the social forces that have shaped the administration of the public schools. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

For while schools everywhere reflect to some extent the culture of which they are a part and respond to forces within that culture, the American public schools, because of the nature of their pattern of organization, support, and control, were especially vulnerable and responded quickly to the strongest social forces. . . .The business influence was exerted upon education in several ways: through newspapers, journals, and books; through speeches at educational meetings; and, more directly, through actions of school boards. It was exerted by laymen, by professional journalists, by businessmen or industrialists either individually or in groups. . ., and finally by educators themselves. Whatever its source, the influence was exerted in the form of suggestions or demands that the schools be organized and operated in a more businesslike way and that more emphasis by placed upon a practical and immediately useful education….

The tragedy itself was fourfold: that educational questions were subordinated to business considerations; that administrators were produced who were not, in any true sense, educators; that a scientific label was put on some very unscientific and dubious methods and practices; and that an anti-intellectual climate, already prevalent, was strengthened. (pp. 1, 5-6, 246)

Posts about school choice

Posts about charter schools

 

Choice and Walling Off Poverty

School choice has remained a compelling part of education reform discourse and policy into the twenty-first century—but not simply among conservative politicians and stakeholders.

For example, despite growing evidence that charter schools are essentially no better or worse than traditional public schools, political and public support for charter schools remains robust primarily because they are touted as parental choice.

And especially in the good ol’ U.S. of A., what could be wrong with all parents having the same choices that wealthy parents have?

Except, that bromide is compelling only within the context of idealizing choice—ignoring that parents make all sorts of horrible choices daily, negatively impacting their children, ignoring that parents tend to choose schools for socio-political reasons that have little to do with academic quality, and thus, that choice isn’t a positive market force for education reform but for one of the greatest ills to ever impact society and education in the U.S.: segregation by race and class.

While the talking points for school choice advocates have shifted over the last few decades, “all parents should have the same choices that wealthy parents have” drives the essence of their advocacy, and allows this ideology to skirt the overwhelming evidence against school choice as a positive mechanism for education or social reform addressing inequity.

During this presidential election season, amid rising social tensions, there is renewed calls for building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Like school choice, this plan is compelling along extreme ideological lines only; in practice, both are unwarranted and even incendiary.

Yet, what we are failing to acknowledge is the act of walling is already in place in the U.S.—the wealthy walling off the poor, and the mechanism for that is choices made by the wealthy [1] that school choice advocates idealize:

There are over 14,000 school districts across the country. Many of the 35,000 borders that divide them contribute to increasing economic segregation and create barriers to opportunity that is sometimes just out of reach. This occurs in large part because between 40-60% of schools’ fortunes depend on property values in the neighborhoods that surround them. This reality creates incentives for wealthy areas to wall themselves off from their needy neighbors, keeping their property wealth for their own children’s schools and leaving other communities to fend for themselves.

Ironically, the school choice charade is about choice. [2]

As a country, we have made a choice not to address social, economic, and educational inequity directly. We have chosen instead to remain faithful to the invisible-handed God of Choice who daily raises one defiant finger toward the poor and disenfranchised.


[1] Explore the powerful interactive map at this link.

[2] A great deal of irony exists also in the funding for edbuild, including a number of neoliberal, pro-choice organizations.

Weekend Quick Takes June 25-26

Read Julian Vasquez Heilig’s What other universities should learn from UT, and note especially this:

Not discussed in the current ruling, but I believe relevant, is that Fisher did not fall below a bright line by which whites were rejected and minorities admitted. As reported in The Nation, UT-Austin offered admission “to some students with lower test scores and grades than Fisher. Five of those students were Black or Latino. Forty-two were white.” Additionally, “168 black and Latino students with grades as good as or better than Fisher’s who were also denied entry into the university that year.”

It is unfortunate that Fisher believed wrongly, in spite of factual evidence and data to the contrary, that she was discriminated against because she was white. In fact, by pursuing a case where the data was very clear on this point, she continued the insecurity and insidiousness of racial prejudice that has unfortunately permeated our society for centuries.

Also see his co-authored Actuating equity?: Historical and contemporary analyses of African American access to selective higher education from Sweatt to the Top 10% Law


There may be many cracks in Maintaining the Charter Mirage: Progressive Racism, including Paul Hewitt’s A modest proposal for charter schools; consider this:

Now that I have established myself as an opponent of charter schools I have a proposal for the Walton family and charter school proponents everywhere. I propose that you go against my friend’s admonition that we need public schools for charters to succeed. If charter schools are so good, let’s make every school in the current school district a charter school. Let’s dissolve the traditional school board and have them become trustees of school facilities. Let’s take all the existing school facilities and have charter school groups nationwide bid through proposals to take over and run that school. State law may need to be altered a little for this grand experiment. For example, no student living in the current school boundaries could transfer to a school in another neighboring school district. This would ensure that the charters serve all students in the community including the special education, English language learners, and at-risk children to ensure that no child could be “pushed out.”

Just imagine, every school would be a charter school and parents could have their choice of schools for their child. The traditional lottery system would be used at each school, and if the parent wasn’t lucky enough to get their first choice they could go to their second or third. Because the population of the entire school district would be involved there could be no discrimination and all students, even the at-risk, would be served. The traditional creaming of top students that is the major criticism of charters would be eliminated. This would be a completely free-market school choice system.

The double irony to this confrontation as (mostly) satire is that transforming all public schools into charter schools has already occurred—in New Orleans; see Endgame: Disaster Capitalism, New Orleans, and the Charter Scam.

And while edureformers continue to mislead political leaders and the public about such turnover/turnarounds, New Orleans is but one example of how these market-based reforms have proven to be utter failures.


In 1949, former NCTE president and English teacher/educator Lou LaBrant argued: “Our language programs have been set up as costume parties and not anything more basic than that” (p. 16).

In 2016, former NCTE president and esteemed educator and activist Joanne Yatvin confronts the same disturbing dynamic in her Too Little and Too Late.

Regretfully, Yatvin’s powerful refuting of the National Reading Panel, at the base of No Child Left Behind, was mostly ignored by political leaders and the public. Yet, she is once again ringing a bell that must be heard:

To the Editor:

As a retired educator, still deeply involved with the teaching of reading and writing, I was dismayed to read that the Portland Public schools are still tied to one-size-fit all commercial materials for teaching reading and considering combining pieces from several of them to make a new program. By this time experienced teachers should have learned that each child learns to read in his own time frame and in his own way, and that real literature and non-fiction are far better tools than anything concocted by commercial publishers.

Learning to read is not all that difficult when children are given interesting and well-written books for group activities and allowed to choose books that appeal to them to read on their own. It also helps when adults read aloud interesting books with illustrations on a regular basis. That is how children learn vocabulary and begin to understand the world outside their own homes and neighborhoods. Reading poetry helps too, because of the repeated word sounds and lines.

Over all, we should remember that reading and writing have been around for many centuries, and that the people who wanted and needed to use those skills found them easy to learn– often without a teacher, and certainly without any breakdown into separate skills, workbook exercises, or tests.

Sincerely yours,
Joanne Yatvin

The entire accountability reform movement driven by ever-new standards and ever-new high-stakes tests benefits mostly the education market—not students, not teachers.

In fact, as my current graduate literacy course has revealed to me, teachers both recognize the negative impact of required reading programs and materials and feel powerless to set those materials aside in order to implement what their children actually need.


I entered the field of education fueled by the belief that traditional schooling needed to be reformed. I am a public school advocate, but I also recognize that traditional public schools have served white middle-class and affluent children well (even though, as I can attest, that population often excels in spite of traditional schooling) while mostly failing vulnerable populations of students, specifically black, brown, and poor children.

My fellow pro-public school friends have been proudly sharing Jack Schneider’s America’s Not-So-Broken Education System.

While both Schneider and those sharing his piece are, I am certain, driven by good intentions, I must caution that such defenses of public schools suffer from whitewashing—a not-so-subtle middle-class lens that fails to adequately emphasize the racist and classist policies entrenched in public schools.

Public education as a social reform mechanism has not happened; public schools more often than not reflect and perpetuate the very worst aspects of our society.

If I may, I believe those of us who are adamant about supporting public education are committed to the potential, the promise that public education could be or should be something better, at the very least a model of equity if not a lever for equity.


Related to the above concern, access to experienced and certified teachers is a key aspect of both how our public schools have failed and how we are currently committed to the very worst aspects of education reform (for example, Teach For America and value-added methods for teacher evaluation).

Derek Black has compiled a powerful and important examination of Taking Teacher Quality Seriously.

See the abstract:

Although access to quality teachers is one of the most important aspects of a quality education, explicit concern with teacher quality has been conspicuously absent from past litigation over the right to education. Instead, past litigation has focused almost exclusively on funding. Though that litigation has narrowed gross funding gaps between schools in many states, it has not changed what matters most: access to quality teachers.

This Article proposes a break from the traditional approach to litigating the constitutional right to education. Rather than constitutionalizing adequate or equal funding, courts should constitutionalize quality teaching. The recent success of the constitutional challenge to tenure offers the first step in this direction. But the focus on teacher tenure alone is misplaced. Eliminating tenure, without addressing more important fundamental challenges for the teaching profession, may just make matters worse. Thus, this Article argues for a broader intervention strategy. When evaluating claims that students have been deprived of their constitutional right to education, courts should first ensure that states equally distribute existing quality teachers, regardless of the supply. Courts should then address state policies that affect the supply of teachers, which include far more than just salaries. When those remedies still prove insufficient to ensure access to quality teachers, courts must ensure that the removal of ineffective teachers is possible.


And a perfect companion for your weekend reading comes from 1969: “Bullshit and the Art of Crap -Detection” by Neil Postman.

Here’s just a taste:

Thus, my main purpose this afternoon is to introduce the subject of bullshit to the NCTE. It is a subject, one might say, that needs no introduction to the NCTE, but I want to do it in a way that would allow bullshit to take its place alongside our literary heritage, grammatical theory, the topic sentence, and correct usage as part of the content of English instruction. For this reason, I will have to use 15 minutes or so of your time to discuss the taxonomy of bullshit. It is important for you to pay close attention to this, since I am going to give a quiz at the conclusion.