Monday, December 2, 2013

The Race to the Bottom

The know-nothings who decided that market-based reforms were just what the public schools needed can look to New Jersey for proof that what they have wrought is having its intended terrible effect on education. The corporate takeover is going according to plan. The worst victims are the students themselves.

One of the warnings that veteran educators tried to sound was that the growth of charter schools would create two levels of opportunity: one for parents who were proactive and worked to get their children into top charter schools, and the rest of the population that either couldn't compete or was shut out and stuck in the now-depleted public system. That seems to be happening in Newark, if this article is accurate. Yes, there are some significant successes if you count the students who are thriving in schools that can skim the best off the top and can generally avoid recruiting the poorest and least-able students. Test scores are up. There are fewer disruptions.

But it's a false success if it means that other students are denied that quality of education. Free market principles are great for businesses, stock markets, and competitions for talent and ability. It can be deadly, however, when it comes to education.

Public schools by law must educate all children. Think about that: all children. Not one exception. And they need to educate them so they will be productive members of society. What the know-nothings have done is to criticize the public schools as unwieldy, rife with union activism, and failing our children. What they've created are academies that are exempt from the public school's rules and worse, have created winners and losers. That's not what education is about. As a matter of fact, it runs against every rational, reasonable and moral imperative that undergirds an education system in a compassionate society. It's wonderful that more students are doing well and are thriving in these new schools. For the losers, though, it's a life sentence.

As for the teachers, the know-nothings created a new evaluation system  that is supposed to weed out the less effective educators from the classroom. What they're created in reality is a time-wasting, money-sucking, mathematically-skewed nightmare that is taking money from school programs and budgets that can best be used in the classroom, and not on software that shows faculty members what an effective lesson looks like. We already know that.  

With the Common Core Standards breathing down our necks, educators need more resources that students can use to learn, such as technology that works, interactive readings and mathematics lessons, and more time to plan collaboratively with teachers of other disciplines, grades, and expertise.

What we're getting is a system that requires teachers to spend hours writing or rewriting lesson plans to meet the new guidelines, to meet with administrators to coordinate scoring rubrics, and to defend what we've always done in every other year, but now have to write down. If the goal was to create evaluations that mimicked the business world, then congratulations; it's just as ineffective as your average corporate annual review.

Again, it's the students who will really pay for the damage in time, in money and in lost resources. I give this new teacher ratings system about five years before the corporate world and the Koch brothers move on to something else they can try to ruin. Until then, the race to the bottom will be quick.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  


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