By Jim Miller
Things haven’t been going too well for the corporate education reform forces lately. In Chicago there is great controversy surrounding and parent resistance to school closings as a result of the efforts of over zealous reformers. This shameful turn of events puts yet another black mark on former Obama Administration chief of staff and current Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel’s heavy-handed reign of error over his city’s schools.
Across the country in Seattle, teachers, students, and parents came together to resist the overuse of standardized tests by asking questions that resonated nationwide about the disservice we are doing to our children. And, in Atlanta, a massive cheating scandal raised eyebrows about the hegemony of high stakes testing as well.
Add to this the rapidly unraveling reputation of the snarling diva of market-based education reform, Michelle Rhee, who appears to have covered up a cheating scandal of her own in her former role as head of Washington, D.C. schools.
Finally in California, the Democratic Party passed a resolution urging all Democrats to oppose corporate education reform efforts as contrary to core party values. All of this would seem to indicate that things are far from rosy in the Brave New World of Race to the Top.
But it gets worse. The most damning news of all is a comprehensive study of corporate education reform efforts in Washington, D.C., New York, and Chicago that analyzed the “reform” efforts championed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee and her organization StudentsFirst, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and others and concludes that, “The reforms deliver few benefits and in some cases harm the students they purport to help, while drawing attention and resources away from policies with real promise to address poverty-related barriers to school success.”
The report entitled “Market-Oriented Education Reforms’ Rhetoric Trumps Reality” should be sobering reading for the “no excuses” crowd. It focuses on the three cities mentioned above because they served as central models for federal education policy. As the Washington Post notes, the impacts of the market driven reform in those cities include the following:
* Test scores increased less, and achievement gaps grew more, in “reform” cities than in other urban districts.
* Reported successes for targeted students evaporated upon closer examination.
* Test-based accountability prompted churn that thinned the ranks of experienced teachers, but not necessarily bad teachers.
* School closures did not send students to better schools or save school districts money.
* Charter schools further disrupted the districts while providing mixed benefits, particularly for the highest-needs students.
* Emphasis on the widely touted market-oriented reforms drew attention and resources from initiatives with greater promise.
* The reforms missed a critical factor driving achievement gaps: the influence of poverty on academic performance. Real, sustained change requires strategies that are more realistic, patient, and multipronged.
One would think that these kinds of results would be enough to give pause to anyone seriously interested in helping improve public education at any level. Sadly, in the Obama Administration, nothing could be further from the truth as rhetoric continues to trump reality when it comes to education.
As IVN reports, the Department of Education is planning on bringing Race to the Top to American higher education with a new $1 billion grant system to support state efforts to “to tackle college costs and raise completion levels, while driving innovation and college access through a companion First in the World fund and better leveraging the campus-based aid programs.”
Since there are no standardized tests at the higher education level, this new push for “access and completion” will involve things like pushing a privatization agenda through the promotion of mandatory online education efforts. Here in California, SB 520, the Steinberg bill to outsource higher education to private online providers, is a good example of what we can expect as the Department of Education has already been trumpeting this snake oil as a panacea for what ails us.
Why would a Democratic administration be pushing so hard to implement market-driven reforms in higher education even as the results of their efforts at reforming K-12 have come under great scrutiny? One need look no further than the big money pouring into the education sector to see where the impetus for this effort lies.
As Valerie Strauss has noted in the Washington Post, the education sector now represents 9% of the country’s gross domestic product and for-profit education is a $1.3 trillion industry, one of the largest American investment markets . So the inconvenient truth is that just as the Obama Administration is willing to sell out the New Deal by putting Social Security “on the table” in their budget plans, they are also willing to sell out public education to private interests and pretend they are doing something noble in the process. But the bottom line here and elsewhere is that the billionaire boys club and Wall Street have bought themselves a seat in the White House and in the national Democratic Party.
That’s how corporate education reform gets to go to college even after flunking out of high school.
Let’s hope that here, in California, the state Democratic Party’s resolution on corporate education reform will mean something—or the future of our democracy will suffer as moneyed interests continue to line their pockets by promoting bad policy and making students pay the price.