Led by Diane Ravitch, Anthony Cody,
Leonie Haimson and other lefty ed reformers, the NPE is calling for an end to
privatization schemes; increased funding; assessments that are used to inform
instruction, not to penalize schools, students and teachers, among other
reforms; community control; teacher autonomy; and a host of other reforms..
As far as
reformist movements go, the NPE’s initial platform seems like a reasonable
start. However, when examined more closely, it’s hard to tell what the NPE is
actually demanding or how it intends to achieve its goals. For example, what do
they mean by “democratic control?” One parent, one vote? One teacher, one vote?
School Site Councils, (which are essentially advisory and subservient to school
boards)? The abolition of school boards (representative democracy) to be replaced
by some sort of direct democracy? Workers councils led by employee delegates
who are recallable at any time by their colleagues?
public schools already have some sort of democratic control (e.g., school site
councils, PTAs and elected school boards), but these are heavily influenced by
moneyed interests and politics and provide the actual stakeholders (e.g.,
parents, teachers, students) only nominal influence over decisions that affect
students’ learning conditions and teachers’ working conditions.
what do they mean by providing resources “that students need” or “equitable
funding?” Bringing the poorest schools on par with the wealthiest schools is a
pretty mild demand, considering that even the best-funded schools do not have
sufficient resources. Creating equity from peanuts just means that all schools
receive a paltry share of the peanuts.
would help to set some benchmark goals, like one nurse for every 250 students;
class sizes that never exceed 25:1 in the secondary grades and never exceed
15:1 in the elementary grades; free preschool for all, and generous, ample
funding, rather than “equity” from the pittances we currently receive.
Likewise, how about mandatory wages and benefits that are not only adequate for
supporting school employees in the communities where they work, but that are
actually generous and allow a degree of luxury and security?
The NPE argues that there should be more emphasis on early childhood education because
the achievement gap begins before kindergarten and early childhood education can
help mitigate this. However, preschool and Head Start, alone, cannot erase the
pre-K achievement gap, because this gap is a direct product of poverty. Will
the NPE also fight for programs and initiatives that close the wealth gap and
reduce poverty, since this is the number one cause of low student achievement
and will continue to hinder children’s academic success, regardless what happens
in the classroom?
NPE calls for the evaluation of teachers by professionals, not by unreliable
test scores, yet they say nothing about who these professional should be. As
long as evaluators continue to be site administrators there will be an inherent
bias that can lead to good teachers being disciplined or fired and incompetent
or corrupt teachers being promoted. These professionals should be highly
trained, objective outsiders (ideally teachers, themselves), who evaluate
teachers blindly. Furthermore, the evaluations should be used to support
professional growth, not to punish teachers for petty infractions or to fire them
for being union organizers, student advocates or higher paid veterans.
while NPE opposes profiteering off of public education, they have not yet
indicated whether they expect this to wither away through voting and
protesting, or if they recognize it as an inevitable product of education’s
role in capitalism. All the other problems they criticize stem from this
relationship. Even without the transfer of tax dollars from public school
budgets to private charter schools, tech companies and test and textbook
publishers, there will continue to be an incentive by the state to spend as a
little as possible on education and keep its employees under tight control
(e.g., accountability schemes, limitations on unions and strikes).
Ultimately, even with a more coherent and specific plan, NPE, like all other
liberal/reformist initiatives, will at best only be able to reduce the problems
they identify with public education, since all of these problems have
capitalism, itself, at their root. For example, when teaching is no longer tied
to wages, the problem of administrators firing teachers (or giving them bad
evaluations) for being union organizers, student advocates or higher paid
veterans would cease to exist. There would no longer be a need for high stakes
tests, since there would no longer be a motivation for sorting students by
ability in order to track them into wage work versus management. Schools could
be funded rationally, based on their actual needs, rather than being held
hostage to a system designed to make the wealthy even wealthier by reducing
social spending to the bare bones. Perhaps most importantly, in addition to practical
skills (e.g., critical thinking, reading, writing, math) teachers could start
teach what students themselves want to learn, fostering creativity, curiosity
and an intrinsic love of learning.