Archive for August, 2011

Public Education and the Tentacles of Profit

PUBLIC EDUCATION AND THE TENTACLES OF PROFIT

A new reality is beginning to unfold. This other-reality is inhabited by fabulously wealthy people who want, indeed are compelled, to become even more wealthy since having all but a tiny percentage of the real world’s income is not quite enough – they apparently want it all. The May 2011 edition of Vanity Fair reports that 1% of the US population takes in 25% of all income and holds 40% of the nation’s wealth. http://www.vanityfair.com/society/features/2011/05/top-one-percent-201105 There is today, it seems, an epidemic of consummate sociopathic greed by people who profit on everyone else’s losses and who buy politicians with the same ease normal people buy groceries. To further their ends the other-reality hosts pool-side gatherings at plush resorts for ambitious and eager other-reality wannabes to discuss how best to go about achieving their agendas. In these settings the wannabes rub shoulders with the other-reality folks and offer their services and willingness to assist the sponsors in their quest for an even greater slice of the National Pie. We can only wonder what the rewards can be for providing such assistance. One example, perhaps, of what possibilities might exist is revealed in how Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin, cheerfully responded to a caller he thought was one of the multi-millionaire Koch brothers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBnSv3a6Nh4

Privatizing Public Education is one potential source of new wealth being explored by the other-reality people. Achieving control of the Public Education system which has existed, for better or for worse, in the US for more than a century, requires operatives appointed to governmental offices of education willing to carry out the agenda, New Mexico being one such example. Why not start the take over process with politicians who could use a little financial help with their campaigns provided by “Foundations” dedicated to the preservation of Democracy? A little help here and there results in such appointments to public office as I have described above and pretty soon you are on your way to grading schools and grading teachers and, in the end the inevitable conclusions that students are failing, teachers are failing and, of course, public schools are failing. Our only hope then in this scenario is privatization.

If you think the above is exaggeration please check out the following web sites which were provided by a reader of one of my earlier essays, “Hemingway” and I share his annotations here, with my thanks:

Hemingway

August 2, 2011 • 9:23 am

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) sponsored model bills aiming to privatize public education, eliminate teacher’s unions, and make American universities adhere to the right wing and libertarian viewpoint.

http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/Privatizing_Public_Education,_Higher_Ed_Policy,_and_Teachers

http://www.alec.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Home&Template=/Templates/TemplateHomepage/ALEC_1502_20070319T102535_LayoutHomePage.cfm

The Kochs have given ALEC contributions exceeding $1 million—not including a half-million loaned to ALEC when the group had financial problems. “The Kochs’ mistrust of public education can be traced to their father, Fred, who ranted and raved that the National Education Association was a communist group and public-school books were filled with “communist propaganda,”

http://www.thenation.com/article/161973/alec-exposed-koch-connection

Interestingly ALEC was behind the scenes in Wisconsin in the education fight. Read this article by Dr. William Cronin.

http://scholarcitizen.williamcronon.net/2011/03/15/alec/

This is wrong! ”

The Koch Brothers and others of their political persuasion it should be pointed out are not, lest we demonize them, the only example of moneyed people financing a social agenda. Money is power of course and the willingness to use it for social change has always been with us as a society. Recall the Carnegies and Rockefellers and presently Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and so on who are using their fortunes to sponsor scientific exploration and the advancement of technology and knowledge and create a safer disease-and hunger-free world.

WHO IS FAILING WHAT?

Let’s examine the failing schools agenda and how it is being rationalized for public consumption. Are teachers failing? Who says so and what is their agenda? Here is an exchange between the actor Matt Damon (whose mother is a teacher) and a “reporter” from a Libertarian “news” organization: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFHJkvEwyhk&feature=player_embedded

Teachers seem to have become a favorite soft target for the industrial reformers. Teachers are a convenient target for several reasons including their own unions which have failed to seize the moment and take control of the narrative. As an example of the assault on teachers, one of Governor Scott Walker’s first legislative “achievements”, in his opinion at least, was to disenfranchise Wisconsin teachers’ unions. An August 10th, 2011 item on the KOAT-TV web site details the problems teachers in Albuquerque are going to face with a 7% increase in class sizeshttp://www.koat.com/news/28819192/detail.html    And, rest assured these class size increases will result in matching increases in standardized test result failures. This will be one more blow against the autonomy and authority of classroom teachers setting them up as scapegoats for politicians. Teachers will be blamed for the failures and the privatization band will strike up its familiar marching tune – “Privatize, privatize – Oh the results you’ll see. You won’t believe your eyes!

http://www.utahnsforpublicschools.org/policycenter/KeyLessonsClassSizeandStudentAchievement.htm

Tests can also exert a corrupting influence as we recently saw in the exposure of wide-spread cheating of No Child Left Behind test results in Atlanta, Georgia. According to ABC News in reporting the story at the time: “In Georgia, teachers complained to investigators that some students arrived at middle school reading at a first-grade level. But, teachers said, principals insisted those students had to pass their standardized tests. “Teachers were either ordered to cheat or pressured by administrators until they felt they had no choice, authorities said.” In New Mexico 87% of schools fell short in the state-wide evaluations. Are schools failing? The best answer is probably, yes, and for good reasons. Are privatized schools doing better across the board? Not really.

It isn’t that privatized schools, as such, are instruments of some hidden social control agenda, many are not. The KIPP charter schools, for example, are first rate. The administrators, teachers and students are motivated. The educational results gained by these schools are excellent with a high number of graduates going on to college although I am not in favor of using that as an absolute metric for assessing schools and public education. But, more importantly KIPP schools motivate their students to learn. They mentor and develop their teachers in earnest, they engage parents, and they engage children holding their attention for a longer school day and week than public schools do. The “sample daily schedule”, as posted on the KIPP web site, gives teachers two hours of prep time between 8AM and 3PM, during which time they also teach 3 one-hour classes and get a 40-minute lunch break and get an hour for “advisory meetings”.  The hours 3PM to 5PM are a blend  of electives, prep and meetings. These particular charter schools are educating children with great success.

However, in spite of all the good these schools do the question remains – why can’t public schools do the same? Why can’t the existing public schools system be charged with the same responsibility, given the same resources and accomplish the same results?

AUTHENTIC EDUCATION

I have stressed many times in these essays that education is not a manufacturing process and uniformity is not the objective of authentic learning. There is no such thing on Earth as a “Standard Child” and by that reasoning alone standardized testing as the ultimate measure of pedagogical success is false out of the box. To claim otherwise is to trivialize human nature and human experience – it is, in fact, dehumanizing. To contend that standardized testing is a fair and proper method of assessment betrays a diminished view of humanity and ignorance of the educational process. The key to authentic education is interest and when interest is absent so too is authentic learning. Needless to say authentic learning and teaching go hand-in-hand and neither can function when a teacher cannot devote an appropriate amount of time to each learner. So, when a school system increases class sizes and decreases the number of available classroom teachers no claim to authentic teaching and learning can be made. This is a prescription for failure writ large. Class sizes must be adjusted to reasonable levels if effective teaching and learning are to take place. Next parents must be as fully engaged in the process as they are required to be in the charter school schemes.

In a recent news report( http://www.krqe.com/dpp/news/education/social-promotion-could-be-on-agenda) about the push to eliminate, by statute, social promotion in New Mexico, Robin Gibson (A fourth grade teacher at Sandia Base Elementary School) said, ” … it’s unreasonable to think all students learn at the same pace. Kids are all coming from different backgrounds and we need to work with them and not punish them for something they can’t control.”  So, what is the answer to this push, this fixation, to punish kids who don’t learn at the same rate as test writers think they should? How about doing away with grade levels at the elementary level and rather setting performance standards for matriculation? So simple. This is what REAL school reform needs to be about, the simple recognition that children, just like adults, do not all learn at the same rate. Next, in the lower grades do away with the fixation on standardized testing. Tests can certainly be useful as diagnostics (their only real value actually), instruments of policy and policy making or, just as easily, justification for the privatization of public education.

 

There are people out there waiting to pounce on failed schools and failed school systems. The hucksters will promise greater instructional success with lower costs and greater uniformity of results across the board. This will be brought to you by people who have social control and profit foremost in mind. These entrepreneurs can buy with ease politicians and acolytes; the real victims will be children and the greatest loss will be felt by society itself. Is this the new reality we wish to subscribe to, making rich people richer and, at the same time, impoverishing public education and consequently our children? It will be a hollowing out of the social contract and of our civil society. These possibilities cannot be taken lightly and certainly cannot be dismissed as paranoid rant – it has happened to other countries and societies throughout history and it can happen in the US just as easily. It does us well to consider that those who do not remember history are destined to repeat it.

What must we do to make schools safe from privatization and loss of public control? In my opinion perhaps the most important first step must be to depoliticize public education. This is a matter of grave consequence as partisan politics have no place in the process of schooling. Authentic school reforms must be immunized against politicization, commercialization and interference by people whose only qualification is that they have managed to be elected or appointed to public office. Educators must speak out forcefully, defend their expertise and demand control of the process of schooling. I think class sizes must be held at a level where each child can receive proper attention. How can teachers teach where class sizes clearly exceed any possibility of individualized attention? I cannot emphasize this class size issue too strongly. Each child as a learner is a unique center of experience and each child learns at a rate particular to that child so how then can any normal human teacher accomplish the level of individualized attention required to instruct each child with large class sizes and why aren’t parents up in arms over this breech of trust? Parents must be fully integrated into the educational model as the ultimate source of motivation and discipline. Being educated and being able to test out are two vastly different things. The question is, simply put, what are we after in public education – educated individuals or test-taking automatons?

Here’s The Plan, Stan….

Here’s The Plan, Stan.

What’s the plan? Well, here’s how we do it. First we make sure we cut as much from public school budgets as we can without actually closing them. Then we hire a bunch of consultants from out of state who have the right political credentials to pronounce that the schools are dysfunctional and must be privatized in order to “save” them.

This scenario reminds me of a television news report I watched during the Vietnam war. The correspondent was lying in a ditch with an Army officer as bullets and artillery rounds whistled overhead. Every once in a while a helicopter gunship would spray machine gun fire and at least two aircraft swooped in overhead and dropped napalm. All the ordnance was impacting on what appeared to be a tiny village in the near distance. The cameraman was reacting to the explosions as the camera and image jumped around. The correspondent and the officer were lying on their backs and the microphone was placed in the officer’s face with the question: “What’s going on here, what’s the plan?” The reply was cool, calm and entirely without irony as is to be expected from a combat hardened trooper: “Well, we’re going to have to destroy this village in order to save it.”

Here we are, in 2011, destroying public education in order to “save” it. That’s the plan, Stan. We are at it again. The Bush-initiated No Child Left Behind scam is working its magic and schools all over the US are flunking the test. Teachers in Atlanta, Georgia, have been caught cheating the test results to make it look as though their students were actually passing the national exams; 178 teachers and administrators were named in the report!  Florida is often held up as a place where students have improved but, in fact, their students still perform below national averages, so why is experience in Florida held up as a qualification to run a school system? Another question: Why is the charter school held up as a paragon? In Los Angeles the charter school faculty turnover rate is 50% per school year! One teacher described the situation thus; “By the time students graduated from my school, there was not a single teacher who had been there the whole time.” Then there are the demeaning lotteries for placement in charter schools, schools funded with public money. Watch the film “Waiting for Superman” online at http://www.waitingforsuperman.org/  to see how the charter school system works and then ask if you would want to place you child in this scene.

THE WAR ON PUBLIC EDUCATION

The working assumption here is that schools exist because society deems it important and necessary to educate children. And this is why schools should be left out of the political agenda where they seem now to occupy a central position. One has to wonder why someone like Jeb Bush would be touring the country advocating for policies that, in the end, will only damage the educational process. I have long wondered why political conservatives of a certain class (wealthy, privileged, politically influential) have such a fixation on schools and schooling. It is most certainly not because they have the welfare of children in mind. Republican Governor Rick Perry of Texas, now a presidential possibility, is cutting $4 billion from the Texas school budget! In New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie attempted to cut $800 million from that state’s education budget but is being challenged by the courts and the story in Michigan is pretty much the same. Along with the usual budget cuts, Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Walker, encouraged by billionaires with no apparent connection to public education, has added disenfranchising teacher’s unions to the agenda.

When the same attacks are happening across the country one doesn’t have to be paranoid to question what the “real” agenda is. Here is a comment from the  BuzzFlash on the blog site Truthout on Friday 17 June 2011 from a reader named Mario:

“This is really an assault on the working class. A good education is the first step towards upward social mobility. An ignorant populace (the Republican dream) is one that is easier to control and convince.

The BuzzFlash editor, Mark Karlin, added:

This will result in a caste system that will create not a “free market,” but a relatively closed one. Wealth and economic well-being then become not a result of ingenuity, education and entrepreneurialism, but rather of family inheritance. This is also called a fossilized economy.

The Objectives – The Cruel Myth of Privatization.

The first and foremost objective of the school privatization activists will be the elimination of teachers unions. The next objective they will seek to achieve will be greater social control of students and the composition of school population by social class distinction. Poor kids will go to poor-kids schools and well-off -kids will go to well-off-kids schools. The net result will be even greater social polarization, even greater alienation and much less commitment to the whole of society – a parlous path to the future to say the least. The privatization of schools has more to do with greed than altruistic feelings about improving education for all. It is about social control as well.

Adding to this dismal vision of the future are billionaires hiring politicians and lawyers to lobby for privatizing public education. Why? Not because they want to improve education for the masses but because they smell a profit. What then if they are successful? What happens to those who cannot or will not pay? Kids who are barely educated now, who come from homes where parents are indifferent or discouraged will certainly be excluded. That scenario obviously becomes a portrait of disenfranchisement, disillusionment and, worst of all alienation. At least when kids are in school they are exposed to adults who are caring and invested in preparing young people for a life in society, imperfect though it may be. As a result of the press for privatization the US will find itself with an alienated underclass with no commitment to a common social contract. We will become a society that puts a price on everything and knows the value of nothing – especially people.

This essay also appears at: NMPolitics.net


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