Thursday, March 11, 2010

Deconstructing The American Dream

There's a John Lennon tune, one of his last with the lyric, "There are no problems - only solutions".

The quality of the solutions America has come to embrace have sucked us into a death spiral. Corporate pranksters with money enough to influence legislators unconscionably tinker with policies that toy with the needs and desires of citizens. Legislators surround themselves with self-serving experts who have no interest in the public good and eliminate wholesale class of solutions that would enrich this nation as a whole for the sake of a few who could care less if America disappeared into history's ashes.

Today, Herbert Kohl writes in Philadelphia Public School's Notebook an essay on Opportunity to learn, rush to equity. In the article he describes how a reasonable and coherent program to introduce equity in schools nationwide was turned into the systematic , system-wide cancer that NCLB and Race to the Top have become. And he tells us what could have been.
Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities dramatically documents the lack of opportunity presented to many poor children. Taking off from there, we raised the issue of how to negate those inequalities. The question that droves this analysis was: Do all children have the same opportunities to learn?

We were careful to avoid the question of poverty, family background, etc. because we wanted to make strictly educational arguments. We wanted to focus specifically on the conditions of schooling and make the opportunity to learn an equity issue. In this context we wanted to create a series of measures of equity, amongst which were:

* What are the facilities necessary to promote equitable learning?

* What is an equitable ratio of students to teachers?

* What is the range and scope of a learning program that promotes equitable learning – this would include the arts, opportunity for athletics and cultural learning, Advanced Placement courses, science labs?

* What are the credentials teachers are expected to have to produce excellence in learning?

* What kind of wages and working conditions contribute to educational opportunity for children?

* What kinds of supplies and equipment must all school have access to (textbooks, computers, etc.)?

* What kind of standards and measures should be used to measure a school’s effectiveness as an equitable learning institution?

* What role should parents and community organizations play to ensure that schools in their communities are equitable?

There were other conditions, but the idea was to establish a base for what was equitable based upon an analysis of successful public schools across the nation.

We did not want to tie this notion into variables that had to do with conditions outside of the context of schools, as we wanted educational solutions to educational problems. In other words, we wanted to assert that, when given the resources, schools across the country could deliver excellent, equitable education.

We were not advocating a single standard, so much as a series of baselines.

We have to ask ourselves how this got so perverted.What progressives of that time - Wellstone, Kohl, Koziol, and others were advocating was that schools all be instrumented with infrastructure, personnel, pedagogy, and curriculum that offered ALL students the opportunity to learn and allowed all schools to contribute their best efforts toward improving the human condition.

There is no explicit or implicit promise that EVERY child will literally be exactly equal in test score to another in lock step periodic progression ignoring all individual spirit. there is no mention that schools can be failures or that teachers be "held accountable" for anything more than pedagogical self-improvement. And there is no prescription that in the nation's poorest cities, modern school cathedrals should substitute shiny new buildings for vacant curriculum, demoralized personnel, and absurdist expectations.

Yet that's precisely what we have. Not only that WE KNOW ITS A FRAUD. Let me repeat that. WE KNOW ITS A FRAUD and yet we keep throwing money, goodwill, and political capital into something that can only harm public education. In this Democracy Now interview, Diane Ratvich, one of the architects of the draconian solution exposes what it has matured into:
JUAN GONZALEZ: One of the things that you’ve pointed out many times is that the entire testing system of the country right now is rife with corruption and with fraud—


JUAN GONZALEZ: —because you basically have every state deciding its own test standards, and they keep reporting that their kids are doing better. But then every time the national government does a national assessment test, these same states are not improving.

DIANE RAVITCH: Well, this is the great legacy of No Child Left Behind, is that it has left us with a system of institutionalized fraud. And the institutionalized fraud is that No Child Left Behind has mandated that every child is going to be proficient by the year 2014. Except they’re not, because no state and no nation has ever had 100 percent of the children proficient. Kids have all kinds of problems. And whether it’s poverty or a million things, there’s no such thing as 100 percent proficiency.

But every year we get closer to 2014, the bar goes up, and the states are told, “If you don’t reach that bar, you’re going to be punished. Schools will be closed. They’ll be turned into charter schools.” That’s part of the federal mandate, is that schools will be privatized if they can’t meet that impossible goal. So in order to preserve some semblance of public education, the states have been encouraged to lie, and many of them are lying, and so we see states that are saying, “90 percent of our kids are proficient in reading,” and then when the national test comes out, it’s 25 percent.

AMY GOODMAN: Diane Ravitch, we said at the top of this segment that the Department of Education announced sixteen finalists for its first round of the “Race to the Top” competition. They’re going to deliver something like $4.35 billion in school reform grants. And the Washington Post is reporting almost all of these finalists got money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In your book, chapter ten is called “The Billionaire Boys Club.” Explain.

DIANE RAVITCH: “The Billionaires Boys Club” is a discussion of how we’re in a new era of the foundations and their relation to education. We have never in the history of the United States had foundations with the wealth of the Gates Foundation and some of the other billionaire foundations—the Walton Family Foundation, The Broad Foundation. And these three foundations—Gates, Broad and Walton—are committed now to charter schools and to evaluating teachers by test scores. And that’s now the policy of the US Department of Education. We have never seen anything like this, where foundations had the ambition to direct national educational policy, and in fact are succeeding.

The Obama administration appointed somebody from the NewSchools Venture Fund to run this so-called “Race to the Top.” The NewSchools Venture Fund exists to promote charter schools. So, what we’re seeing with the proliferation—with this demand from the federal government, if you want to be part of this $4 billion fund, you better be prepared to create lots more charter schools. Well, it’s all predetermined by who the personnel is. And, you know, so we see this immense influence of the foundations.

And I think that with the proliferation of charter schools, the bottom-line issue is the survival of public education, because we’re going to see many, many more privatized schools and no transparency as to who’s running them, where the money is going, and everything being determined by test scores.

So the whole picture, I think—I just wish that people wouldn’t refer to this as reform, because when we talk about “Race to the Top,” we’re talking about a principle that is antithetical to the fundamental idea of American education. The fundamental idea, which has been enshrined at least since the Brown decision of 1954, was equal educational opportunity. “Race to the Top” is not equal educational opportunity. It is a race in which one or two or three states race to the top to have more privatized schools, more test-based accountability, more basic skills, no emphasis on a broad curriculum for all kids, and no equal educational opportunity. I think that’s wrong. I think it’s also not the role of the federal government to do what’s being done and to call it reform.

We cannot say we don't know what's going on. It's time to stand up and demand it stops. That starts with a call for the resignation of Arne Duncan and a request that progressives snap-slap our legislators into an ethical deconstruction of the monstrosity that Federal and State educational policy has become.

Make no mistake about it, these people are idiots and that won't change. But thinking adults need to rescue our taxes and our public schools from further buffoonery.


din819go said...

Ok -- I am confused...I don't think the whole truth is being told here -- nothing unusual as everyone distorts the truth to get their point across. I want total truth from Ravitch and all educators.

In my district charter schools ARE public schools. They receive their funding VIA the public school system. They receive roughly $2K LESS per student than the default schools receive. That is a very large 20% scrape -- that is highway robbery.

In addition, in my district is a charter PUBLC school does not make AYP for TWO CONSECUTIVE years it can have its charter REVOKED!! How long does it take to shutter a DEFAULT FAILING school?

Come on guys -- challenge your guests and report the whole truth and nothing but...

The Caretaker said...

I'm not sure what you you think these educators are not coming 'clean' on.

Hiring a brand-new staff, administration, and janitors *can* save quite a bit *initially*. Older workers often have worked their way up to earning more money so there's no "highway robbery" going on. What is going on is far more sinister and reading my blog over time exposes that.

But to your point that Charter schools can fail and do *FAIL*. Yeah, that's true. In Washington, DC its happened and Jay Matthews writes about it here:

I do not distort anything in this blog. I use a lot of hyperbole because that's good journalism and I present a lot of sides of a story.

This is not a utopian set of ideas - there is no absolute truth to be found in government policies or spending.