neoliberalism and ed reform

The Frustrated Teacher: David L. Russell -- On Neoliberalism And Its Hold On Education Reform  This impassioned piece about neoliberalism gets a lot of things right.  The dismantling of the public system proceeds by the public's easy acceptance of testing and grading.  The allied myth is that the schools are not very good and they used to be a lot better.  This post by Russell focuses on neoliberalism and its issues (bold is mine):
Neoliberalism works best in a formal electoral democracy, but when the population is diverted from the information, access, and public forums necessary for meaningful participation in decision-making. While neoliberal ideology criticizes state intervention, actual neoliberalism involves coercive, disciplinary forms of state intervention in order to impose market rule upon all aspects of social life. Large corporations have resources to influence media, sway opinion, and overwhelm the political process, and do so accordingly. In U.S. electoral politics, for just one example, the richest one-quarter of one percent of Americans make 80 percent of all individual political contributions and corporations outspend labor by a margin of ten to one
The cornerstone of the neoliberal agenda in education is the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) which increased the role of the federal government in accountability like never before. NCLB raises standards while at the same time defining what those standards are spawning - a phony curricula designed to conform to the forms of knowledge the students would encounter on centralized tests. The competition based focus on raising test scores rather than teaching for understanding shifted teaching away from intellectual activity towards dispensing packaged fragments of information sent from an upper level of bureaucracy. Teachers are being deskilled as they implement curriculum developed by others. 
The above statement about "dispensing packaged fragments of information" derives from the corporate textbook industry that produces tomes so large that children have back problems physically carrying them.  It is an absurd situation but it is evidence of the distance and disconnect between the textbook producer and consumer.  Russell goes on:
As venture philanthropists continue to invest in the privatization of education, the education super-structure from standards, through curricular texts, to assessment will be decided by investors. The quality and quantity, the very nature of the thought processes, critical thinking capabilities and understanding of the world children will develop will be under the jurisdiction of corporate entities who are by-and-large are the same brand of profit seeking venture capitalists who brought us the sub-prime mortgage and credit default swap schemes.  
Yes, plain common sense should alert us to the fact that education in the hands of people who thought up these financial time bombs will not work.  But we must take this opportunity to actually understand how our education system works and make the changes that will move us forward.  Trying to undo what was done and go back to the good old days is not the path:  the good old days are in the past and making schools that work for us today means grasping the way our schools work, what's wrong, and how to change that.

Some of the structural aspects of the way our schools function: compulsory attendance for many years, massive centralization, funding tied to the student, these structural features have produced a system that is easily exploited by corporateers who see the guaranteed income stream and want a piece of the action.  Add all the confused talk about problems in education, a plethora of multi-million and billionaires who want to be philanthropic, and you get the current charter school craze.

The charter school movement basically says We do not know what's wrong or how to fix it so let's let some other people fix it.  But the groups who want to fix our schools have economic interests unconnected to kids and their families, who are the people who actually use the schools.  No one listens to these people -- the ones using the schools -- because schools were not setup to listen to them.  Schools were designed before the consumer became important and so we have schools that are compulsory even when the military is not.

And since no one really feels they understand exactly what the issues are and how they can be changed without some big complicated expensive plan, many influential citizens and politicians go along with the flow generated by big corporations spending money on buzz and research and conferences, all of which produce even more data and arguments and time wasted on issues no one really understands at all.

Hard-working citizens and educators who see the takeover have been sounding the alarms and now that we have mass layoffs, attacks on unions, and Race to the Top, the endgame has become clear to many who didn't see it before.  Just as corporations are being looted, astronomical salaries and bonuses strip businesses of capital after all, so, too, public education is getting a new round of rising salaries at the top while teachers are fired and schools closed. Russell shows some fast rising salaries in his piece:
In Los Angeles about 20 senior jobs -- so far -- will be paid for by philanthropists and others. Eli Broad and Casey Wasserman, both charter school backers, had funded some positions for previous Supt. Ramon Cortines, who retired in mid-April. They will continue to assist current Supt. Deasy. Broad, who wants to create competition by starting publicly funded, privately run charter schools, and enforce accountability by linking teacher pay to student test scores, and to limit teachers' say in curriculum and transfer decisions, initially paid for one of Cortines' top aides. Under Deasy, that aide, Matt Hill, will move to the district payroll -- with a raise from $175,000 to $196,000 -- as "chief strategy officer." Broad also recently paid $250,000 for McKinsey & Co. consultants to assist with Deasy's transition. A Gates Foundation-funded grant from Harvard will pay for a data specialist. Deasy is a former top official at Gates. One new team member is widely regarded as a mayoral ally who shares his interest in charter schools. Maria Casillas, a retired senior L.A. Unified administrator who runs the nonprofit Families in Schools, will be Deasy's top parent and community liaison in a new position that pays $170,000 a year. Under Cortines, instruction was overseen by chief academic officer Judy Elliott, regarded as a rising star when she was hired at $200,000 a year. Elliott recently oversaw the selection of a new district wide reading program. She will now report to newcomer Jaime Aquino, who will earn $250,000 annually. 
These are amazing salaries for people who have not yet accomplished anything not unlike the way CEOs get raises for years they fail to get growth done.  It is a form of piracy, and not a form of business, which would be interested in building something that was sustained.

I discuss on this blog the changes that need to be made to the schools and the citizens that are already working on that and how we do not need to hand over our schools to corporate charter agents to make the schools truly work for the families and children who use them.

 Some background posts are below.

a discussion of school reform


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