Monday, February 21, 2011

Closing the Achievement Gap by Closing Our Eyes

A New Way for the Rich to Control Education Policy?
A new federal commission will examine how school funding can be changed to help close the achievement gap. However, the very mission of this commission will prevent it from achieving its goals since the achievement gap is essentially due to the wealth gap, which will remain unaffected by any changes in school funding (unless those changes lower taxes for the bottom 90% and dramatically raises them for the richest 1%).

Ironically, one of the commissioners is Eric Hanushek, a researcher at the conservative Hoover Institute, who did seminal research showing that as much as 80-90% of academic success is due to factors outside of school, like familial wealth. (He is also an advocate of value-added assessments and antagonistic toward unions).

The commission’s co-chairmen are Reed Hastings, Netflix co-founder, millionaire, and school privatization advocate, and Christopher Edley, dean of UC Berkeley Law School and Obama crony. Hastings is also a KIPP board member and founder of Aspire, NewSchools and EdSource. Edley has staunchly defended the bloated pensions of UC’s highest paid executives (including his) in the face of huge budget cuts and tuition increases. He was also a member of the commission that reviewed NCLB in 2006, and he has served on the Gates Foundation. Neither of these two is likely to propose any kind of effective plan for closing the achievement gap and they certainly won’t promote any plan to close the wealth gap.

The commission also includes NPR talk show host Matt Miller, who supports the gutting of Social Security and Medicaid, but not to provide more money for education (he believes that teachers already have local governments by the short hairs). He wants them gutted to make business more profitable, hardly the kind of guy who will be offering plans to make education (or social) spending more equitable. Did I mention he is a talk show host and not an educator.

Another Obama crony on the commission is Stanford University law professor Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, who, along with Edley, will likely continue to push Race To The Top as a way to close the achievement gap. And there is Thomas Saenz, chief counsel to union-busting L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is also unlikely to come up with the right solution. Perhaps as a nod to teachers, Linda Darling-Hammond was included on the commission. But don’t hold your breath. The achievement gap is not going away anytime soon, nor is school funding going to suddenly become equitable.

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