Horace Mann, Thomas Jefferson, John Dewey and others had a very simple view of public education. To these men, public education in America would be the great equalizer. It would create a common American culture and an educated citizenry that would make decisions that would benefit the whole nation. An educated citizenry that could think for itself would preserve democratic institutions and create a nation that would give opportunity to all.
However, in the warped view of Gates, Zuckerberg, Duncan, Broad, Bloomberg, Rhee, et al., public education has been nothing but a failure. To them, traditional public education has prevented the achievement of high need students, and is the main, if not the “only” cause, of poverty in America. There is only one solution. A standardized national curriculum will enable every child to become college ready. All you need is a super bright Ivy League college student who can efficiently teach this curriculum to 40 to 60 kids at a time (according to Emperor Bloomberg) or a computer program that has enough artificial intelligence to differentiate instruction. Their magical curriculum is teacher proof and student proof. The only thing standing in our way are these reactionary unprofessional unionized public school teachers who only teach kids to line their pockets with public money and who work less than six months out of the year. In the view of these billionaires, only the private sector can implement the magic curriculum in such an efficient manner that it will save the public money while, at the same time, create the most literate nation in the world. Only market forces can create the type of efficiency that will enable everyone to master a common national curriculum that will put a college degree within grasp of every child–no matter their socio-economic status or disability. According to these “experts in education,” all this can be efficiently measured by testing and more testing to see if teachers are successfully implementing this magic curriculum, which will get every student a college degree in America.
One would think that these great benefactors want to create a Utopian society in which there would be no poverty and in which everyone would be college educated. Unfortunately, the reality is much darker. Just like the robber barons of the 19th century who built libraries, museums, and concert halls, which hid their barbaric labor practices within a nation of unbridled wealth, our modern robber barons, want to take themselves off the hook by blaming the economic inequality and pockets of extreme poverty in our urban areas squarely on the door classroom teachers. They are like the con artist that distracts you while he picks your pocket. They point to and blame hard working teaches while they redistribute public money to line the palms of hedge fund operators and venture capitalists that see education as a way to make themselves ever richer.
When one looks objectively at the history of American public education, one sees success against many odds. I would recommend Callahan’s Education and the Cult of Efficiency. I read this book when I was taking graduate courses in Educational Administration. This 1962 books reveals that all this happened before. Callahan describes that at the turn of the 20th century, the economic elite of this country attempted its first top-down reform of education. They decided to turn schools into little factories, which used Frederick Taylor’s methodology of “scientific management” to create an efficient educational system that would educate vast numbers of students in the shortest time to be “educated” workers manning America’s great industrial engine. The result of this reform was that by 1920, the number of high school graduates in America rose from 7% in 1900 to 19%–an insignificant number. Unfortunately, we are still left with much of this legacy. Our eight-forty to three school day, classroom structure, school calendar, as well as a sad history of labor strife between teachers and administrators are all remnants of this so-called reform.
However, with the advent of the use of social science research practices to measure different educational models along with large increases in state and Federal funding for public education after 1940, the high school graduation rate went from about 23% in 1939 to 78% in 2010. And as for American schools not graduating college ready students, in 1899-1900 only 30,000 college degrees were awarded as compared to over 3 million college degrees awarded in 2009-2010.
Rhee and company are right about one thing. We have not been as successful in educating high need urban minority, disabled and foreign born students. Unfortunately, all their solutions are not backed up by legitimate educational research. If anything, their magic curriculum violates every law of child development. The deformers, as I call them, refuse to admit that education is a complicated process and research has shown that one important variable in creating academic achievement is ones address. Obviously, if one lives in a resource rich suburban school district, one has the time, energy and extra resources to help a child and support the education provided by a school. Unfortunately, parents who have to worry about their basic needs cannot do so. Begin to end poverty and you will be well on your way to improve educational outcomes.
Additionally, our modern educational deformers refuse to admit that one cannot measure achievement when the measures themselves are unreliable and invalid. Countless research has shown that their value added measures of teacher performance are less than useless. The new State tests that are being retooled for their magic Common Core curriculum will also be useless. The powers that be admit that many students will fail this test this year. One cannot create a curriculum that does not account for child development in which probably only 15% of the school population may pass (students with above average and superior verbal and intellectual ability). If you use scientific research methodology to measure the efficacy of an educational assessment, there is only one premise. If most people fail a test, the fault is not really with the student, but with the test itself and what it is supposed to measure.
The next question one should ask is if there is so much research that shows that these people are wrong, why is all this happening? Why won’t someone like Bloomberg acknowledge research that shows smaller, not large class size creates greater academic achievement? Why won’t Broad admit that the Common Core standards violate Piaget? The reason is because they have a political agenda. It is a political agenda that is completely undemocratic so that this elite can be free to do what it wants with public money. They also want to further erode the power of American labor. They want a Charter School system that will be free of the AFT and NEA. They want to destroy the political power of these organizations. Diane Ravitch recently described a proposed teacher contract by the head of the Philadelphia school system. It is a proposal that only Andrew Carnegie could love. It is a contract to demoralize and enslave the public school teachers of Philadelphia. The contract cuts wages by 12%, allows principals to fire teachers at whim, and has no class size limits.
As for ending poverty, their proposals will probably result in a segregated education system in this nation. Defunded public schools will only provide a limited education to those in poverty, the disabled and second language students based upon teaching to a test that measures literacy through multiple-choice answers and short written responses to short passages. On the other hand, some students who are in private or charter schools will have an expanded curriculum (because their schools are exempt from being measured by state tests) as well as small class size. As for a common American culture, these exempt charter and private schools will be free to teach such wonders as creationism and the benefits of carbon pollution. As for the disabled, I guess those who remain in traditional public schools will have to make due with few services and programs. Rhee and company talk about school choice, but what they really wish to create is a dual educational system in America that will be separate, unequal and and benefit economically as well as politically America’s 1%.