Why I am not a defender of the ‘status quo’ in education — because the ‘status quo’ is failed ed reforms

The current crowd of ed reformers like to dismiss any of us who disagree with their agenda as “defenders of the status quo.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I am not a defender of the status quo in public education – because the status quo is currently “No Child Left Behind” and its insidious spin-off, “Race to the Top.”

In fact, I decry the state of public education in this country right now, because a beleaguered, underfunded system has been disparaged and ravaged even further this last decade by damaging policies based on failed concepts pushed by those who want to privatize our public schools.

I do not support the status quo because the status quo is teacher bashing. I don’t support the demonizing of teachers and belittling or weakening of the profession.

The status quo is standardization and high-stakes testing which narrows curriculum and kills all creativity and joy for learning and teaching.

It is “merit pay” which lashes teacher evaluations to student test scores, and which repeated studies and common sense show doesn’t work.

It is data-manipulation to create the illusion of ed reform “success.”  (See:  “Standards Raised, More Students Fail Tests.”

It is the re-segregation of public schools, exacerbated by the growth of charter schools.

It is overpaid, revolving school superintendents or chancellors with no ties to the local community, often no background in education, and no plans to stick around. That is the Broad Foundation model and the cause of the recent outcry in New York when Mayor Bloomberg chose a publishing executive with no background in education to be the chancellor of New York’s schools.

The status quo is national public education policy largely determined by  unelected billionaires with zero expertise in education. “Venture philanthropists” Eli Broad and Bill Gates spend millions shaping public education policy. Formers staffers from the Gates Foundation now seed the Obama Administration’s Department of Education.

“Two of Duncan’s top aides, Chief of Staff Margot Rogers and Assistant Deputy Secretary James H. Shelton III, came from the [Gates] foundation and were granted waivers by the Administration from its revolving-door policy limiting involvement with former employers.”– “Bill Gates’ School Crusade,” July 15, 2010, Bloomberg Businessweek.

Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan, and former chief economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, are both former members of the Broad board of directors. The “Broad Prize for Urban Education” is a trophy and large cash sum awarded annually by the private Broad Foundation to school districts performing to its liking. In its 2009-10 Annual Report, Broad boasts that the trophy itself “resides at the U.S. Department of Education.”

You couldn’t ask for a better symbol of the infiltration of private corporate interests into federal government.

Have Mr. Broad or Mr. Gates been elected to public office, or to direct education policy? Do either have any expertise or experience in public education? No and no. Do either seek genuine parent input? No.

The status quo is Astroturf ed reform groups springing up like toadstools  in the nightheavily funded by the same “venture philathropists” looking for a “return on their investment” and pushing the same corporate ed-reform agenda. Washington D.C. ex- school chancellor (Michelle Rhee’s new organization is apparently backed by the same wealthy interests.  These organizations lobby for an ed reform agenda that we parents have no say in or may even oppose. But they have resources and media access at their disposal that ordinary parents don’t have. This is not a democratic dialogue about our children’s future when the main stakeholders — we the parents – are largely shut out of the debate.

I do not defend the current trend of sending recent college grads with just five weeks’ training and just a two-year commitment to teach in our nation’s most struggling schools which already suffer from high teacher turnover. But that is the model for  Teach for America, Inc. a multimillion-dollar enterprise that is now funded by the Obama government to the tune of $50 million-plus and is arguably de-professionalizing the teaching profession.

Five weeks training does not make these uncredentialed grads “highly qualified,” despite the recent shenanigans by Congress.

I do not support the status quo that punishes teachers, principals and schools with mass layoffs, firings and closures because of student test scores, rather than addressing why some children are struggling and how else one might measure a child’s abilities and a teacher’s worth.

I do not support the status quo which is the mindset of the corporate ed reformers that schools should be run like businesses. Schools are not businesses. Their goal is not profit. The strongest schools are communities, more like families, and need to be cooperative, creative, engaging and nurturing environments.

I do not support the status quo of shameful attacks by the media on teachers and schools and the one-sided cheerleading for charter schools that fails to acknowledge the genuine proven limitations of these schools — their failure to serve children with special needs, the high attrition of kids (even a Geoffrey Canada Harlem Children Zone apparently booted an entire class of kids from a charter school because they weren’t deemed likely to do well on tests. (See: “The Myth of Charter Schools,” Brookings Institution, Nov. 11, 2010.)

I do not support the status quo which makes celebrities and “super(wo)men” out of spotlight-seeking figures like Michelle Rhee, Michael Bloomberg, and Arne Duncan, while all the real work is being done quietly by the thousands of anonymous teachers, principals, educators, parents and students, who suffer through reform after reform, trend after trend, searing budget cuts, and still manage to go on and offer a good education to many children in this nation without any national recognition.

I do not support a status quo that cuts so much from school budgets that the PTAs are left fundraising for such essentials as teachers and books, and school communities that do not have these extra  resources suffer the most.

I do not support the status quo of education policies being driven by Wall Street interests and not by what’s in the best interests of our children.

I do not support mayoral control, abolishing of school boards, quashing of parent voices and end-runs around democracy.

I do not defend the federal government imposing its edicts on local school districts, suppressing local autonomy and skirting the edges of Constitutionality, which is what Race to the Top essentially does.

The research comes on the heels of a recent pledge by President Barack Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, to use $5 billion of the $100 billion in federal stimulus funds for education to press states on charter schools. “States that don’t have charter school laws, or put artificial caps on the growth of charter schools, will jeopardize their application” for federal grant money, Duncan said in a call with reporters last week. Currently, 10 states lack laws that allow charter schools, and 26 others cap their enrollment.” — from: “Charter Schools Might Not Be Better,” U.S. News & World Report, June 19, 2009.)

No, I reject this status quo.

What I support and call for is: the long-term personal and professional investment in every child –which takes time and commitment, as  has been demonstrated in Everett, Washington. It’s not flashy, doesn’t require expensive high-tech products, just good old-fashioned follow-up with kids, mentoring and genuine support. And an engaging curriculum.

I support small classes sizes that allow greater one-on-one interaction. I call for the parents’ voices to be the loudest in the discussion of how to run our schools. I support autonomy for schools, teachers and principals who know their communities best, and who can ensure their children are doing well, learning what they need to know and able to graduate.

I call for creative teaching, rich, varied curricula that include the arts and music and languages, science, physical education. I call for safe, decent well-maintained buildings and healthy school meals.

I call for an honest dialogue about the ravages of poverty on our nation’s children. We need to acknowledge the shameful fact that 21 percent of our children live in poverty, and that inequities in academic results are largely determined by income and home life of the child. This is not an excuse, it is a fact, and to expect teachers and schools alone to correct the deep and damaging inequalities of our society is irrational.

I call for an overhaul of school district administrations, to pare them down to the essentials, make them efficient and serving the interests of the school communities, not the whims of private foundations or vendors of standardized tests, text books or online learning products.

I call for the hiring of school superintendents and chancellors who have a local connection and commitment to the community they must serve which will in turn lead to greater accountability. I call to retain democratically elected school board members who must answer to their constituents and oversee the superintendent, and a paid position for school board so they can do their job thoroughly and well.

Public education is an integral ingredient in creating an informed public and a strong democracy. I believe we must keep our public schools free of private and political agendas and manipulations, strengthen our schools, not close them down, stop punishing and start nurturing.

If you agree that our nation needs a new vision for public education, I invite you to join a forum of parents from across the nation who are launching a new organization, Parents Across America, in New York on Feb. 7. Our keynote speaker will be education historian Diane Ravitch. The event is free and open to the public. It starts at 6 p.m. and will held at: PS/IS 89 – Liberty School, 201 Warren Street, New York, N.Y. 10282.

Help bring parents’ voices to the education debate and support progressive, positive, constructive education reforms that work.

–Sue p.

(a version of this post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.)

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11 thoughts on “Why I am not a defender of the ‘status quo’ in education — because the ‘status quo’ is failed ed reforms

  1. Wouldn’t it be great if all parents took the time to educate themselves about the system, as it seems you have. Unfortunately what is more true than otherwise is that most parents are clueless, and most educators must strive for excellence in education in spite of them. I agree that it’s going to take a transformation of how parents parent… but that isn’t a revelation, nor an epiphany. This country, and the world for that matter, didn’t get to where it’s at by accident. People think that we have the issues we have because we are doing it all wrong. We have the issues we have because this is what doing what we do, right or otherwise, produces. Changing how we do what we do would merely, (pardon the cliché), be like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Change what we do… not how. I’m sorry to have to say this… but the baby needs to go with the bath water.

    For me, community is the word in concept out of this piece that rings truest. The call towards that ideal can’t be loud or frequent enough. The sad thing is that true community is an undertaking that few people have the stomach for. The profound struggle that it takes to make a “community” work is gut wrenching as part of the process and calls for profound courage to continue in the face of what, for most, would seem like impending, catastrophic, unavoidable failure. It calls for the willingness to be wrong… about everything. It calls for the willingness to be responsible… for everything. This is a concept that is foreign to the human ego, and for most people… their ego driven image is where it all begins and ends. But there is no place for ego in a community, and image is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what works for everyone. If you are a typical human living on this planet in this day and age… you just thought: “yeah… that’ll never happen.” And so it goes. The solution is beyond our current ability, as a society, to imagine. And telling society they are wrong hasn’t worked thus far, for people much more capable of inspiring the kind of transformation it’s going to take than I, and until society is willing to take a look in the mirror… it will always be just “status quo.”

  2. Thank you for this post. This summary of the agenda behind school “reform” should be read by every teacher, parent, school administrator, school board member, and politician in the country. I’m going to send it to everyone I know in the profession. We must maintain a unified front and not allow the powerful interests to divide parents and educators.

    I am a Tennessean, one of the first states to ‘win’ a Race to the Top grant, initiated by our previous Democratic governor. Now, our entire government is in Republican control and the leg is attempting to impose more brutal changes for schools and teachers than those mandated in RttT. Look at Florida & fraudster Rick Scott for the blueprint.

    Our TN schools may never recover from this juggernaut of moneyed private consultants now invading our most vulnerable schools. Overpaid consultants promote merit pay and value-added accountability with pep talks and checklists. Such consultants are being paid with DoE money that would be better used in classrooms. TN’s rural and inner city schools are historically underperforming. They exist in some of the most impoverished communities in the US and of voters who vote against their economic best interests.

    Until politicians start understanding they will pay at the ballot box, will school reform become a democratic movement that includes parents, teachers, and school administrators. We must resist or we’ll loose our public schools.

  3. Thank you for taking the time to articulate this cogent argument.

    Two years ago Martin Terrones and I created a progressive alternative to the PSC privatization process in Los Angeles. When people say “we understand what you are against, but what are you for?” I refer them to this document. One thing is for sure, our ideas are hardly the ‘status quo’ that the corporate reform types accuse us of.

    Community School Choice: An Alternative Way for LAUSD

    Moreover, since all of my thinking on education is informed by the writings of the late Paulo Freire, I can’t for the life of me understand how accusations of ‘status quo’ can be used in any rational discussion.

  4. Definitely the best thing ever written about 21st century education reform. Parents, united, across America and other countries where this is happening, are the only hope. No other group holds so much unrealized influence.

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