The Education Cure

Bogus and Sinking Us More?

Education is in dire straits, mainly not because of poor teachers and principals but because the privatization movement and the profit motive has infested education’s inner sanctums with greed and an ideology which justifies it. The result is actually poorer education due to higher cost, lack of coordination, politics, commitment to profit rather than a good education, and too often amateurs guiding it.

The outgrowth of its testing focus during the George W. Bush years was ill-advised national programs like the sale of education in the form of “No Child Left Behind,” and the Obama administration is not far behind Bush’s nonsense with “Race to the Top.”

Even philanthropists, well-meaning but clueless about education, like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, have been infected with the privatization craze, championed in the media and by political leaders they deal with. In 2010, Zuckerberg first announced the gift of $100 million to be given to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (before Bridgegate) and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the three beginning the Startup: Education Foundation. Wrought with crime and a 67% graduation rate, Newark was thought to be a city with potential for reform through excellence in education, a relative showcase for the rest of the country.

Within the first two years of the five year plan, twenty million of the money pool went to consulting firms with specialties of public relations, human resources, communications and teacher evaluations, many getting up to $1000 a day. Later, the Parthenon Group, an international consulting firm, received $3 million over two years to deal with the overlapping complexities of urban schooling. A lot of private consulting seemed to bypass public education and parents.

Somewhat later parents found that a myriad of decisions were made without them, including the hiring of 50 new principals, four new public high schools, startup charter schools, and 1000 teacher and 800 support staff layoffs. They realized they had no power over their children’s destiny. The result in effect put 40% in charter schools and the poorest 60% in district schools, the Newark schools going broke even with revenues of $1 billion and $200 million of philanthropy.

The Gates Foundation has also spent millions with an emphasis on charter schools being folded into the urban school environment. Following the Newark school line, the Gates are champions of the Common Core program started by the Obama administration, which emphasized testing in all states participating in the program.

Both have been built on the fallacy that student failures in global education testing must mandate a singular focus on a K-12 effort to prepare students for a narrow-based testing, to the exclusion of a comprehensive curriculum. The false wisdom also deems public education as the ogre with a negative focus on teachers. The manufactured logic posits that tenure must go, enabling below-standard teachers to be fired and often the offending public school replaced with charter schools, which hire lower-cost, mostly beginning teachers.

This conversation fits right into the profit planning of private companies which are flocking into the education business. Accountability and control of the schools, of course, slowly slips out of the hands of educators, parents and taxpayers and into the hands of CEOs and demagogues. This is a familiar pattern in states and communities immersed in the conservative philosophy with business interests often doing the steering. Even progressives are fooled with the blame focus, though the infection is wearing off as the breadth of curriculums shrink, accountability disappears and overall student performance does not improve.

There seems to be an unwillingness to recognize the role of poverty in education’s failures. From poor international test results to failures in impoverished schools the revelation is there, only if leaders look for it. Like many issues in American society, there is the conservative side supported with money, power and media which pushes privatization, blames teachers, elevates the role of testing, cites comparative scores on global testing, demonizes public services, and lauds private enterprise.

Charter schools and vouchers usually leave us with segregation of poor from the rich and ignore the problem of poverty. Privatization means deregulation, greater segregation, and less equity, with minimal oversight by public authorities.

The reality is that poverty is highly correlated with low academic achievement. The rate of poverty in the US is higher than in any other advanced nation, with nearly a quarter of American children. If you eliminate samples in which more than 10% are poor when comparing global testing, the US does as well or better than number one ranking students.  Scores of low-poverty schools in the US are far higher than the international average.

The media reaction was summarily negative when the 2010 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores from 60 countries for 15 year-old students showed that Shanghai ranked first in reading, math, and science. The US was fourteenth or lower. It did not consider our high poverty rate or the tendency of other countries to memorize facts that appear on tests.

It is known that children from poor families due to poor health care and nutrition have a greater likelihood of learning disabilities. Children of the poor are more likely to be born preterm, suffering cognitive impairments, learning disabilities and attention deficits. They are more likely to suffer “fetal alcohol syndrome,” live in a dwelling infested with rats and roaches or be homeless, have a parent or guardian incarcerated or unemployed, change schools frequently, have asthma, suffer anemia from a poor diet, have undetected hearing problems, be exposed to lead on their walls.

The burdens for children of poverty are physical, emotional, cognitive, and psychological. The advantage is definitely with children who have good health, regular checkups, good nutrition, educated parents, a literate environment, basic economic security, and wholesome after-school activities. The correlation with poverty is evident when you see the growing achievement gap between children from high and low-income families. Sociologist, Sean Reardon of Stanford University found that it is about 30 – 40% larger among children tested in 2001 than those born 25 years earlier. Scientists suspect it is even larger today.

The spurious basis of evidence to support a conservative belief that education failures are due to bad teachers is starkly shown when a Superior Court judge in LA struck down state laws in California governing teacher tenure. Students Matter in bringing the suit spoke of the difficulty in firing “grossly ineffective” teachers.

Dr. Berliner, an expert called by the state defendants, testified that 1 to 3% of teachers in California are grossly ineffective (calculated at 2750 – 8250 of 275,000 active teachers). When asked where he got the figures, he admitted that “I pulled them out of the air,” based on his classroom visitations of teachers.

Most media sources never think to question supporting evidence, more and more proved to be bogus, especially among conservative sources like Fox News and the GOP. Now even LA, which is usually labeled progressive, produces counterfeit evidence in its courtroom .

James Hoover is a recently retired systems engineer. He has advanced degrees in Economics and English. Prior to his aerospace career, he taught high school, and he has also taught college courses. He recently published a science fiction novel called Extraordinary Visitors and writes political columns on several websites. Read other articles by James.