Here comes 2011: the year the people abandoned schools to corporate wolves?

Anthony Cody

As Anthony Cody blogged on New Year’s Day, it is no longer possible to ignore the coordinated attacks being launched on the public schooling in the USA. Unless teachers and concerned citizens can derail their plans, corporate-backed “reformers” will succeed in the next few months in dismantling public schools from coast to coast. With smiling celebrities like Oprah and Bill Gates in their ranks, the “reformers” urge a  wholesale “privatization” of schools via corporately-supported charters, standardized testing, and a “transparent” focus on the bottom line, as measured by… standardized tests. There is all the reform efforts, an unquestioned faith in tests–the international ones trotted out annually to shame US schools, and the NCLB results that  measure us against each other, and were engineered to make every school look bad–in several ways–by 2014.

Maybe it’s just me, but the influence of the marketplace seems something you want to keep separate from the classroom. Too much important stuff is happening there–the idea is to not distract teachers and students from their work. The best schools work that way:  teachers allowed to focus on their teaching, and students on learning. You add merit-based pay, unfair evaluations, and the dissolution of tenure to the mix, and you compromise a teacher’s attention, sap his/her energy for the classroom. Bottom line:  Everyone suffers in the bargain of quantity over quality, but it won’t show up on corporate reports. Commercial interests promise and deliver near-term “results,” but they are inimical to the classroom and deleterious to the future of civil society. They take the special place where we nurture our young, and they bring a calculator and a watch.

The reformers’ message is well-coordinated and seemingly logical. “Hey, we’re succeeding with charters–check out these test results.”  “Everything in Race to the Top is good. Why would you be a loser?”  The media onslaught has been clever, using initiatives toward technology as stalking horses. [Yes, even thewikiness was coopted by corporate messengers preaching technological fixes, as my December 5th blog attests.]  But like a blitzkrieg on Poland it has taken America’s teachers and principals by surprise; they are standing around like sheep, disorganized and ineffectual, with no clear voice of response. And yet, it is way past time the alarm should be sounded to wake up the body politic.

Cody says that schools are under “a systemic and coordinated attack.” And that “in the next 12 months we are likely to see”

  • Class sizes increase dramatically

  • More public dollars going to privately managed charter schools

  • Teacher retirement funds attacked as being overly generous

  • Due process for teachers done away with in order to get rid of “bad teachers.”

  • Seniority eliminated since expensive experienced teachers do not raise test scores any more than novices proficient at test preparation.

In Illinois right now, a group of these “reformers” are launching an attack packaged with a tax-increase. Eliminating due process to dismiss teachers, ending collective bargaining for teachers (goodbye, teachers’ unions), and offering merit pay are on their agenda.

As is often the case, one of Anthony’s commentators brings up some excellent ideas for teachers. We need, says “Saxophonist,” to “get angry” as teachers, and in concert speak to parents and community members. Here are his challenging suggestions:

There is no doubt the profession is under attack. We need to be angry (controlled anger, as it may be). We must let it be known, “we are angry and we will not take it any more!” Just as athletes cry out, we too, “must protect this HOUSE !”  We have let our detractors sneak in under the radar as we were busy, effectively doing our jobs. We must reveal this to our constitutents. The communities we serve must come to understand that the energy spent defending ourselves was once spent focusing on their children’s needs. Our capacity to be the very people they want us to be – world-class teachers – is being greatly diminshed. 

Parents can be our most effective allies. If we each commit to communicating with them openly and frequently, our message could be very simple:

1. We do not ignore our critics and we do not take criticism lightly. We teach by example and are humble enough to start 2011 by erasing public doubt (even if we believe the public should not have doubt) and by doubling our commitment/effort to educate their children – because they’re worth it. (There can NEVER BE TOO MUCH communication to parents – I send home a page-long, personal update, 1/2 data and 1/2 from the heart, AT LEAST every other week for each of my 145 students).

Presently, through surrogates other than our unions (parents, spouses not in the sprofession, friends, family members) we must raise the question:  IN WHOM SHOULD PARENTS TRUST? The Kia -driving person who spends 2 extra hours a week helping your daughter improve her spelling, or the person who flew in on his private jet? 

And then explain: 

1. As Judge Judy often states, “If it doesn’t make sense, then it likely isn’t true.” If the version of the education product offered by business-savvy reformers is so new and so improved,…. why such the hard sell? “New Coca-Cola” was soundly rejected. Pepsi dropped the star power of Madonna and Michael Jackson. Yet, Reformers are banking on”The Oprah Effect”. (you’d think she’d learn after being duped so many times before).  

2. Teachers understand the current problems with achievement. We have BETTER solutions than”reformers.” However, most states have vaguely worded codes of ethics which can be, and have been, loosely interpreted by politically appointed “professional conduct review boards” and used against teachers. Publicly voicing a contradictory opinion to state, district, superintendent, or princpal-enacted policies is to “disparage” our superiors and is cited as insubordination. The Supreme Court recently upheld that our freedom of speech can and should be regulated by our employers.

We need to get the word out. Not via the union, via the expected communications we would have with the parents of the children we teach. It starts by EVERY ONE OF US being that uber-teacher every parent would like us to be. If we start Monday morning, Jan 3rd, THE PARENTS will respond. However, if it is not a super-majority of us, then we have failed ourselves and ultimately, the kids.

So what do you think? Can we get the very compelling message out before it’s too late? Is Saxophonists’ “turn-up-the-home-communication” flow feasible? Through what “surrogates” should the teacher’s message flow if not unions?  Can social media via Twitter and FB campaigns carry it?

Where is the kryptonite to Guggenheim’s Superman? Can someone make a good video to show Mr. and Mrs. America that what we rely on to account for kids’ learning has serious flaws, that most reformers’ changes are quick, cheap fixes? Can we somehow remind the taxpayer of a school’s value to the entire community, remind him/her that educators will work together with parents and businesses and do whatever is best for the kids?

Will enough voters come together in Saxophonist’s “super-majority”  to counter-tip this movement, or will we, as he puts it, “have failed ourselves and ultimately, the kids”?

We should be able to say within a few months. Stay tuned, and if you care enough, please get active.

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