Monday, March 14, 2011

Shutting Parents Out to Shut Them Up

(Image by t0msk)
What is the best way to get your way? Make sure that your way is the only way being discussed. Charter schools achieve this by cutting parents out of their governing boards and operating in secret. Republicans are attempting to achieve this by crushing unions and destroying their ability to fund Democratic candidates. The ruling elite achieve this by influencing members of both parties, controlling the media and by framing every issue in terms of whether it is good for “jobs” and the “economy” (i.e., profits).

There are plenty of stakeholders who oppose corporate education reform and who are shut out of the debate, the most obvious (and vocal) being teachers. However, there is another vocal group that is also left out of some of the most important education reform decisions: parents. Leonie Haimson (from Class Size Matters) & Julie Woestehoff (from Parents United for Responsible Education) have outlined many of the consequences of this in their commentary, SHUTTING OUT PARENTS: Obama's Disappointing Blueprint for Reform.

Excerpts are below (in quotes), with my comments in italics:

“As public school parents and parent advocates, we have grave reservations about the Obama administration’s "blueprint for reform" laying out its proposals for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Along with 16 other parent activists from throughout the country, we recently wrote a letter to the president and Congress, which hundreds more signed on to, registering our opposition to the administration’s agenda for the nation’s schools.

As this letter from “parents across America” pointed out, the parent voice has been missing so far from the national debate on education, and is entirely absent from the top-down, often draconian policies put forward by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.”

While the Duncan plan is certainly top-down and detrimental to students, the lack of parent voice in the debate is not an innocent oversight. The parent voice has been deliberately shut out because it is a nuisance and a hindrance to corporate profits, the ultimate goal of the Obama/Duncan education reform model. In much the same way that the U.S. cannot tolerate any sort of popular government in Egypt because it might make decisions that limit U.S. corporations’ ability to exploit their workers and resources, the current wave of education reform is all about plundering the public education system for private gain. Low wages, weakened unions and job protections, heavy reliance on testing and accountability, and the use of educational management organizations to run the schools like factories are all part of this strategy. Anyone who resists this, whether it is to protect their living and working conditions or to protect their children’s quality of education, must be stifled.

Haimson and Woestehoff do make reference to this in their critique (see below). However, they do so from the perspective of caring parents, laying out numerous important ways children will be harmed by it, while pleading for a seat at the table and arguing that as knowledgeable stakeholders they could help make smarter decisions. While they are very knowledgeable and certainly could make smarter education decisions, their pleas are likely to fall on deaf ears, as the objective here is not children’s well-being, but profits.

“We object to the reform blueprint’s focus on privatization and its push to radically expand the charter school sector. Though some charters may offer students a quality education, one of the largest national studies shows they are, on average, no better, and frequently worse, than neighboring regular public schools. Charters also draw money, space, and other resources from district schools, while enrolling fewer of their communities’ immigrant, special-needs, and poor children.

Tying teacher pay and tenure to gains or losses in students’ standardized-test scores will make the prospect of teaching in inner cities less attractive. According to the National Academy of Sciences, such tests are also a highly unreliable basis for judging teachers. Too many schools have already become joyless test-prep factories, rather than centers of real learning. All children, especially those in inner cities whose parents cannot afford to supplement their schooling, need and deserve a full complement of social studies, science, arts, and physical education. Yet these subjects are being driven out of the curriculum by the high-stakes testing regime imposed in recent years. The Obama blueprint pays lip service to the need for a well-rounded education, but its proposals to link teacher evaluation and pay to the results of high-stakes exams are likely to make a bad situation even worse.

Education is a public trust, and the very foundation of our democracy. Congress holds a great responsibility in its hands in the pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We are well aware that powerful corporate and foundation interests are shaping many federal and local education policies with dollars rather than evidence-based solutions. We hope that Congress and the administration will listen more carefully to parents as they deliberate on this crucial piece of legislation, and that the next version of the ESEA formally incorporates our views. As highly knowledgeable primary stakeholders, we must be permitted to have a seat at the decision making table.”

This last section repeats an oft-cited, but inaccurate premise: The education system exists to bolster democracy. While the notion of an egalitarian society in which all members participate equally and freely is a wonderful goal, it is not the political system we have, nor is it something that the education system was designed to bolster. Furthermore, it says nothing about the cruel conditions that force so many to live with so little. Rather, democracy, Congress AND the education system all exist in order to bolster capitalism, to ensure that there continue to be people who can operate the factories, provide services, purchase products and accept this reality stoically and patriotically.

Certainly a good educator has the power to inspire people to fight for freedom and equality. However, if we truly want to gain control of the education system and empower young people to fight for a better society, we need to empower young people now, together with parents and teachers, to confront the ruling elite head on. We need to wrest control of the entire socioeconomic system, not just the education system. We need to strip away the wealth and power that allow so few to rule over so many.

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