For reasons I’ve never understood the good folks of Alabama have an amazing propensity to embrace leadership intent on clinging to failed ideas, instead of progressive ones. And for goodness sakes, don’t let facts get in the way.
Such is the case with the various “education reforms” our super majority is intent on cramming down our throats. While other parts of the nation have long dealt with vouchers and charter schools and found them much less than proponents claimed they would be, Alabama embraces them as if they magically sprouted like mushrooms here overnight long before anyone else knew what they were.
Jeff Bryant edits the Education Opportunity Network from Chapel Hill, NC. He is also a frequent contributor about public education policy to national publications. In this article in Salon he looks back at 2015 and points out that education policy is actually moving away from policy we’re being told to embrace.
Here is how he describes what has been taking place for a number of years.
For years, an out-of-touch establishment has dominated education policy too. A well-funded elite has labeled public education as generally a failed enterprise and insisted that only a regime of standardized testing and charter schools can make schools and educators more “accountable.” Politicians and pundits across the political spectrum have adopted this narrative of “reform” and now easily slip into the rhetoric that supports it without hesitation.
And what begin to happen in 2015?
The bigger, more important story emerging from 2015 is that the American public is increasingly at odds with a reform movement that seeks to remake schools into an image promoted by wealthy private foundations, influential think tanks and well-financed political operations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
And what about using test scores to evaluate teachers as the RAISE Act of 2016 proposes?
Using test scores to evaluate teachers – one of the pillars of the reform movement – is not the only policy idea going out of favor. Using the scores to evaluate the viability of local schools is running into more opposition as well.
In Tennessee, also an early adopter of reform fads, leaders had put into place a system that used student scores on standardized tests to pronounce schools as “failing” and provide the rationale for the state to take over management of the schools by an appointed board. What follows these takeovers, invariably, is that the agency, whose officials are handpicked by conservative lawmakers, transfers the schools to privately operated charter management organizations.
And the charter school movement we embraced with legislation in 2015?
But charter school expansions come with a significant negative to the reform movement. As the numbers and influence of these schools grow, so do the scandals associated with them and so do the divisive fights in communities where these schools are proliferating.
In October, the Center for Media and Democracy published a new report revealing that the federal government has spent over $3.7 billion in taxpayer money on charter schools with virtually no accountability for the funds.
According to the report, the federal government, state governments and charter authorizers have generally not provided the public with ready information about how federal funds for charters have been spent. Attempts to trace federal grant money to recipients are apt to encounter “substantial obstruction” from states reluctant to reveal how charter money is spent and how state government handles charter oversight.
The report contends, “Unlike truly public schools, which have to account for prospective and past spending in public budgets provided to democratically elected school boards, charter spending is largely a black hole.”
Scandals will continue to dog charter schools because of the way they are organized and operated. As a recent policy brief from the National Education Policy Center explains, the very structure of the charter school business introduces new actors into public education who skim money from the system without returning any benefit to students and taxpayers.
So what happens?
Resistance to the education reform agenda is not as much a rejection of its various policy features as it is a rejection of the philosophy that drives it.
This philosophy puts little stock in democratic governance of schools, believing instead that really smart people, armed with the right data and algorithms, are what it takes to determine education policy from New York to Nevada.
This core philosophy makes infinite sense to folks with backgrounds in law, business management, finance, or economics, but tends to rub educators and parents the wrong way because of its failure to acknowledge that teaching and learning are primarily relationship-driven endeavors and not technical pursuits.
And parents will grow ever more skeptical of the false promise of “school choice” because it doesn’t deliver what they really want: the guarantee of good neighborhood schools that are free and equitable to all children.
And here in the Heart of Dixie we believe everyone else is wrong and we’re right.