It’s 2014…the year in which all the children in America will be proficient in reading and math…and it’s all thanks to The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
Alas, it won’t happen. Over the last dozen years No Child Left Behind and its Democratic twin, Race to the Top have not improved America’s education as promised. Charter schools don’t do better than traditional public schools. Vouchers don’t improve public schools through competition. There’s still an achievement gap. Punishing students, teachers and schools for low test scores hasn’t incentivized higher achievement. Testing, testing, and more testing hasn’t helped anyone except test developers, publishers, distributors and their donations to the campaign coffers of politicians.
The “no-excuses,” pro-privatization, so-called “reformers” easily ignore any actual research and use the power of the media and money from billionaires to lay the blame on parents, educators and their unions, or some vague “education bureaucracy”. These reformatizers (“reformers” + privatizers) are more interested in the corporate bottom line than the academic success of children.
IT’S THE TEACHERS’ FAULT
One of their spokesmen, the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, recently told us that we American educators are “bottom of the academic barrel” — in other words, stupid. We are, as the old saying implies, unable to do anything else. See Teachers and Tests.
While teachers in America often come from the bottom of the academic barrel and are disproportionately teaching students from disadvantaged backgrounds, Duncan said, teachers in South Korea are selected from the top of the class and are rewarded for working with low-income students.
It’s interesting that he would say that, given that his administration has 1) participated in punishing teachers and schools who work with low-income students and 2) developed a policy which has encouraged public schools to replace trained, experienced teachers with untrained novices. High achieving nations such as South Korea invest more money where it’s needed. In the US we spend less money on our low income students. We invest less in their materials, their facilities, and their teachers. Much of what we do spend is redirected away from students into the coffers of test manufacturers like Pearson.
‘Our children who need more get less,’ he told parent leaders from around the nation
Secretary Duncan seems to understand this yet Race to the Top is a competition which delivers much needed funds to “winners” rather than focusing on schools in need, leaving out millions of high-poverty students.
Rather than providing incentives for states and districts to close schools which are struggling — almost exclusively schools with high numbers of students living in poverty — Race to the Top might work better if it encouraged states to provide more resources to those same schools. Instead, the money is used to close schools filled with low achieving students, fire teachers and administrators, open charter schools lacking public oversight and shuffle students into other schools…which then became low achieving schools.
IT’S THE PARENTS’ FAULT
Secretary Duncan doesn’t stop with educators, however. It seems that American parents just don’t care about their children’s education.
Parents in the United States do not demand the same kind of educational excellence as those in other countries, he said.
Parents do demand educational excellence, of course. What Duncan means to say is that parents in the United States are so confused by the education debate that they don’t always know what educational excellence is. Is it what their children’s teachers are doing on a day to day basis — and they approve of their children’s teachers in overwhelming numbers, or is it what the corporate education reform industry and their employees in the media are saying about America’s public education? The latter plays upon the well-established American tradition of mistrust of high achievement.
AMERICANS AREN’T SERIOUS ABOUT EDUCATION
Despite No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top, despite A Nation at Risk, and the response to the Soviet threat of Sputnik, despite the fact that Americans talk self-righteously about improving education and use our children as a political tool, the fact is that the United States, as a nation, hasn’t really valued education. In his 1962 work, Anti-intellectualism in American Life, Richard Hofstadter wrote…
Americans would create a common-school system, but would balk at giving it adequate support. They would stand close to the vanguard among the countries of the world in an attempt to diffuse knowledge among the people, and then engage drifters and misfits as teachers and offer them wages of draymen.
Today, the corporate education reform industry is pushing the same thing. Rather than respecting educators and improving teacher preparation the reformatizers whine about the imaginary plague of “bad teachers” and then dump untrained, cheap labor into positions in the classroom and administrative offices. See here and here.
Parents, educators and many of America’s students themselves undoubtedly do care about education. I’ll even go so far as to give the benefit of the doubt to some politicians and policy makers, at least when it comes to their own children. However, as a nation we have not invested wisely in education and it’s because, as a nation, we’re not really serious about educating our children. We’re much more interested in which teams will play in the Superbowl, who’s on Dancing With the Stars, or the newest smart-phone app.
The corporate education reform industry is after the money we spend on public education, not improved education. If they can get more profits by hiring temps to fill the classroom so much the better. If they can make money by writing the standards, then monopolizing the test-prep and tests of those standards then so much the better. The corporate bottom line is not the same as the needs of children.
Blogger Peter Greene offers this proof of America’s lack of serious concern for public education…
If we were serious about education, we would not allow our public school system to be hijacked and dismantled by rich and powerful amateurs.
If we were serious about education, our media would direct its questions about education to teachers. We would all know the names and faces of the best teachers in this country, and they would be the ones being offered 50K a pop to talk about schools.
If we were serious about education, we would not stand for having it “measured” by means as frivolous and meaningless as the barrage of high stakes tests we subject students to.
If we were serious about education, we would fight like hell to keep the federal government’s grubby grabby hands out of our state and local systems.
If we were serious about education, we would make heroes out of the people who provide it and protect them from the attacks of people who didn’t know what the heck they were talking about.
If we were serious about education, we would make sure that schools had the top funding no matter what, even if that meant that other segments of government had to hold bake sales.
If we were serious about education, we would treat as a bad joke the notion that well-meaning untrained rich kids had any business spending a year or two in a classroom for resume building.
If we were serious about education, we would laugh the Common Core out of the room. Hell, if we were serious about education, we would never have proposed the Common Core in the first place.
If we were serious about education, we would never entrust our nations [sic] educational leadership to men who have no training or experience in education at all and who only listened to other men with no training or experience in education at all. If we were serious about education, we would demand leadership by people who were also serious about education, and we would demand leadership based on proven principles and techniques developed by people who truly cared about the education of America’s students.
The last point is important. Secretary Duncan, like most of the Secretaries of Education before him, is not an educator. He is supposedly in charge of America’s K-12 public schools, yet he has never taught in a public school, he has never even attended a public school. He has no educational training other than watching his mother tutor struggling students.
He doesn’t know anything about teaching. He doesn’t know anything about public education students. In his 5 years in office he hasn’t taken the time to learn. He’s a sociology major and a professional basketball player. He has no business leading the nation’s public schools. If we were serious about education we’d fire Arne Duncan.
When researchers control for poverty, the US ranks near the top of the world on international tests: (Carnoy, M and Rothstein, R. 2013, What Do International Tests Really Show Us about U.S. Student Performance. Washington DC: Economic Policy Institute. 2012. http://www.epi.org/).
To Duncan, the top of the “barrel” would probably mean the Ivy Leaguers like himself, who become the 5-week TFA wonders; the ones who, on average, flounder through their first 2 years in inner-city schools before fleeing for greener pastures.
Students will not become genuine learners unless they are imbued with a love of learning, meaning they regard learning as an end in itself, an asset not easily measured. Every teacher is fully aware that in competitive environments students will concentrate their efforts on achieving a high grade, not on truly understanding the material. They will memorize for tests and then forget everything. They will take great pains to hide their ignorance, not raise critical questions, let alone questions about material they do not understand. We know that in moments of desperation the vast majority of high school students at one time or another will cheat, which is hardly one of the skills we want them to acquire.
…schools and children don’t exist in a vacuum. We must intensify our efforts to improve the environments in which our children live — providing access to healthcare, including mental health treatment and reducing violence in our communities and increasing parental involvement are just a few such ways.
All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.