Two recent attempts by WA state government to subvert democracy in order to potentially push an ed reform agenda are cause for alarm.
Two eyebrow-raising news items out of Olympia strongly imply that Governor Gregoire and Co. may be positioning our state to turn some tricks yet again for “Race to the Top”
Both involve bypassing the democratic process. This is the M.O. of many corporate ed reformers. Mayoral control of school districts is the desired scenario of top-down, anti-democratic ed reformers like Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg and others. [See sidebar: Power grabs: the M.O. of Ed Reformers]
In the first example, Gov. Gregoire recently proposed eliminating the democratically elected State Superintendent of Public Schools (currently Randy Dorn) and seizing control of state education herself. The Seattle Times (quoting Dorn himself, I believe) rightly called this a power grab.
Crosscut’s David Brewster applaud’s Gregoire’s move as “bold” (I guess that’s one way to describe seizing power away from the voting public).
Now Publicola reports that the state senate education committee has apparently just been rigged by the pro-corporate-reform clique (aka the “Waiting for Superman” fan club). Two new members have suddenly been added to the committee and, whaddya know? They both support corporate ed reform, and now tip the balance of the board potentially towards privatization of public education and other discredited “reforms.”
I know we’re tucked away in the far northern corner of the nation, but really, did no one in our echelons of state government get the memo? Nationwide, state after state, study after study, scandal after scandal show that the “reforms” commanded by “Race to the Top” are failing.
Charter schools, merit pay, high stakes testing – are all proving to either not work at all, or do serious damage to our schools and the teaching profession, or are by and large no better than what we already have in our public schools.
To recap: 83 percent of charter schools perform no better or perform worse than traditional public schools. (Read Stanford University’s CREDO report which found that only 17 percent of charter schools outperform traditional public schools.)
High stakes testing does not make teachers or kids perform better, and “value added measures” are riddled with error.
Merit pay doesn’t work. Teachers aren’t motivated by making more money than the teacher in the next classroom. Two separate studies out of Vanderbilt University’s Center for Performance Incentives have now reported this fact.
RTTT demands that states remove caps, change laws, do whatever it takes to make public education an open market for privately run charters. Washington State is one of only a dozen or so states that does not allow charters. Some say this is why Washington failed to “win” RTTT dollars in its bid last year. Voters have voted against handing over our public schools to private enterprise at least twice. But clearly there are players in Olympia who want to push charters through anyway.
Apparently Gregoire, the state senate education committee, and our friends at Jonah Edelman’s (does your mom know what sneaky stuff you’re up to?) carpetbagging astroturf PAC “Stand for Children” think we voters should be shut out of this process. (Publicola reports that S4C apparently contributed $21,000 to the campaign of one of the newly implanted committee members, Senator Steve Hobbs, D-44, Lake Stevens. Here in Seattle, Stand for Children had a semi-secret, invite-only fundraiser last year featuring Seattle’s Broad-trained School Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson as a speaker, and with the stated goal of raising funds to help elect pro-reformers to office. Some parents cried “conflict of interest” when they heard about this extra-curricular political fundraising by the supt. But the school board members I asked said, No, it was just fine for the superintendent to lend the power and influence of her elected office in that manner.)
Bringing back those brilliant moonbeams
Meanwhile in California, new (recycled?) Governor Jerry Brown is apparently going in the opposite direction of Gov. Gregoire. Rather than stacking the state school board with reformites, one of his first orders of business as the new gov was to kick out the most fervent corporate reformers, the controversial Ben “parent trigger” Austin and Ted Mitchell, president of the pro-charter NewSchools Venture Fund. Brown instead appointed an array of – get this—qualified educators and others to help drive the education policy of one of the nation’s largest states. Even the teacher-bashing L.A. Times was forced to agree he had chosen a pretty substantial and fair-minded group of people.
Now, the L.A. Times may also claim that Brown’s moves are merely a thank you to the teacher’s union which supported his campaign. But detractors would be wrong to dismiss Brown’s selection so simplistically. Parents across the country cheered Brown’s choices. And this may well be yet another indication that the tide is turning against the “Waiting for Superman” teacher-bashing, rah-rah charter crowd, and turning towards sensible, positive education policy.
Also, rumor has it that Brown, who once supported the creation of two charters in Oakland as mayor, has since soured on the concept, and disagrees with the heavy-handed, top-down, federal control of President Obama’s “Race to the Top” education policies.
Which brings us back to Washington State. Are we really going to dance for “Race to the Top” dollars again (pennies, really, when the limited amounts awarded are divided by the number of kids statewide) by selling out our schools and kids to private enterprise and failed “reforms”? And is our democratically elected governor and the senate education committee going to stage a coup against our democratically elected state school superintendent in order to force that agenda on us? Not a very honorable picture.
Power Grabs: the MO of the Ed Reformers (cause they know the people won’t support their agenda)
A Seattle Times editorial rightly questioned Gregoire’s proposal, but wrongly called Washington’s failure to fully capitulate to the federal edicts of “Race to the Top” a loss. It also didn’t note that the national “trend” toward mayoral control of school districts has resulted in despotism and failure.
The Bloomberg/Klein dynamic duo in New York comes immediately to mind. As the nation learned this past summer, the alleged “success” of the mayor and school chancellor’s much ballyhooed ed reform policy was a sham.
And too easily this mayoral control thing can run amok. Witness Mayor Bloomberg’s recent insistence on appointing the totally unqualified publishing exec Cathie Black to school chancellor. The state law prevented a non-educator from taking the helm of the school district, and a state panel voted 4-2 against granting a special waiver to get around the law. Yet Bloomberg, never one to let state law get in the way of his ambitions, still managed to wrangle a waiver to bypass the law and allow Black, his choice, to be appointed anyway, over public protest.
(It appears these schemes may be catching up with Mayor Bloomberg, who may be feeling some political fallout for the Cathie Black debacle and other controversies on his watch. The New York Times reported on Jan. 9 that the three-term mayor’s approval ratings have sunk to 37 percent.) [These two paragraphs were updated on Jan. 13. –s.p.]
The pro-privatizing Broad Foundation prefers and supports mayoral takeovers of public school districts (Bloomberg model) which eliminates democratically elected school boards and gives the mayor sole authority to appoint the superintendent. (This is what Gregoire’s shenanigans remind me of). This set-up squeezes the public out of the decision-making process and consolidates their representation to just the mayor.
See the pattern here? This is how the corporate ed reformers push their agendas through. By force, manipulation and power grabs. Such end runs around democracy are a trademark of the current breed of corporate ed reformers who want complete control and no pesky public input to get in the way of their agenda.
In Compton, Calif., using the “parent trigger” mechanism invented by Ben Austin, a consultant for Green Dot charters, parents were tricked and intimidated into signing a petition that would have converted their kids’ school into a charter. They were told the petition was merely to “beautify” their kids’ school — not hand it over to a private enterprise.
This is fairly typical ed reform behavior — sneak something by, force something through, change the law if you have to. This underhanded, undemocratic behavior does not speak well of the reformers, and instead raises many questions about their true agenda.